The Concept of Joint And Several Liability And The Indiana State Fair Tragedy

The Concept of Joint And Several Liability And The Indiana State Fair Tragedy
September 21, 2011 jamesludlow

As mentioned in a prior blog, Indiana’s Attorney General recently announced that the State would pay its maximum liability of $5,000,000 to the 40 or so individuals who were physically injured in this tragedy.  While it is commendable that the State made this decision so soon after this event, it likely did not have much choice since the law of joint and several liability would apply to any claim against the State.

Under this law, if the State of Indiana was found to be even 1% responsible for this unfortunate event, the State would be legally responsible to pay 100% of the damages up to the $700,000 per person/$5,000,000 per event limit.   This would be true even if the negligence of some other corporate entity, such as the company that built the stage, was found to be the primary cause of this collapse.

Under the legal theory of joint and several liability, if one person or entity is partially responsible for causing a legal harm, that person or entity is liable to pay all damages that were suffered by the injured party, even if other persons or companies may have also caused the accident in question.  The concept of joint and several liability has existed in Indiana and in most states since the 1800’s.

Interestingly, joint and several liability only applies to governmental entities in civil tort claims and to health care providers in medical negligence claims.  All other persons and business entities are covered by what is called the law of comparative fault that I will discuss in my next blog.