If you were involved in an accident in New Bedford, MA, you might have to settle or file a lawsuit with more than one party. Your lawyer will inform you which parties can be sued. This, however, is a different topic on it’s own. Our main topic here is whether you can settle with one party in your personal injury claim in New Bedford and still pursue a lawsuit with the other parties.
The short answer is yes, it’s possible. But in legal matters, the answer is never that simple. When filing a personal injury claim with more than one party, there are many reasons why you may not have your cake and eat it too.
Both you and the parties involved in your personal injury claim have to evaluate the risks of settling the case. First, the parties could be related in one way or another with regard to your case. For instance, if you plan to file for a medical malpractice lawsuit, your lawyer might advise you to sue the hospital, the surgeon, the anesthetist and any other person who was involved in causing your injuries. Settling with the anesthetist and pursuing a lawsuit with the surgeon and the hospital might not be practical or even wise. In addition, there are laws affecting damages in New Bedford, which your lawyer should inform you about before making any decisions.
How State Laws Divide Damages among Several Defendants
1. Joint and Several Liability
Joint liability is when two or more parties can be held jointly liable for your injuries. This means they need to have acted together in order to cause the harm. For instance, if a manufacturer and a supplier jointly distribute a product that was clearly recalled by the FDA and as a result the product harmed you, both the manufacturer and the supplier can be held jointly liable if you file a product liability lawsuit against them.
With joint liability, all parties are responsible for paying all your damages. You, however, cannot go around collecting damages from each party involved in your claim. For instance, if you suffered $100, 000 in damages, you cannot collect $100, 000 from each of the parties. Your total recovery cannot exceed the total amount of damages attributed to all defendants.
Several liability is the opposite of joint liability in that, you can sue all the parties involved in your personal injury claim separately. For instance, if you are involved in an accident with a drunk truck driver who has a history of driving under the influence, you can sue both their employer and the truck driver separately. You can sue the employer for negligent hiring of a truck driver who has a reputation for driving while under the influence and you can sue the truck driver for negligent driving.
Joint and several liability can be combined. So let’s say you got into an accident and you win a $500, 000 judgment against four defendants, you can choose to have one of the defendants pay you even though all four of them had a part to play in your accident. Or, you can choose to have one of the defendants pay half the compensation amount and let the other three pay $8400 each.
Massachusetts is considered a pure joint and several liability state. This means that all defendants who are found liable for your accident will be responsible for the entire amount of damages owed to you as long as you are not more than 50% responsible for the accident that led to your injury.
2. Pure Apportionment
In such a situation, if the party responsible for your accident is found to be 5% at fault, and your damages amount to $500, 000 they will only be liable for paying 5% of your damages. If they are found to be 50% liable for your damages, they will pay $250, 000 and so on.
3. Hybrid Approach
This is a combination of pure apportionment and joint and several liability. For instance, your medical expenses may be joint and several but pain and suffering damages may be purely apportioned. However, the hybrid approach is very complicated.
If you live in another state other than Massachusetts, don’t worry about which approach applies to you. Your personal injury lawyer should be able to tell you, which approach works in the state where you live.
Settling Your Personal Injury Claim in New Bedford with Only One Defendant
Since Massachusetts is purely a Joint and Several state, there is very little risk to you when you settle with one defendant. This is because settling with just one defendant does not automatically mean the rest won’t be liable for the full amount of your damages.
However, it is highly unlikely that the defendants will settle individually because other defendants will file for contribution to even out the judgment. You do not need to worry about the percentage of fault allocated to the parties responsible for your accident because it does not affect your personal injury claim in New Bedford.
What Happens When There’s Vicarious Liability?
Since your personal injury claim in New Bedford involves more than one defendant, it’s more than likely that one defendant is vicariously liable for another. A good example would be the case of a truck driver’s employer being held liable for the actions of their employee. The employer may have done a thorough background check on the truck driver before hiring them so they weren’t negligent in hiring. In such a case, both the employer and employee will be held jointly liable for your damages. They will most likely be under the same insurance company and share the same attorney so settling with just one of them will be impossible.
So should you settle with one defendant in your personal injury claim in New Bedford? We have explained what the risks are and how practical it is to settle with one defendant. We have only covered some of the common risks so you should know there are others not yet mentioned.