This is a concept in the law known as “joint and several liability.” This is an interesting concept because it is constantly changing. Legislatures influenced by corporations like to eliminate joint and several liability because it protects wrongdoers from their own bad acts.
In Missouri, in 1988, the legislature renewed R.S.Mo. Section 538.230. This meant that multiple defendants who were at fault for victimizing a patient could be held collectively liable even when their portion/percentage of fault was less than the other wrongdoers. The legislature made a public policy decision that one of two parties had to pay for damages.
On one side, there were the bad actors. On the other side, there was the innocent victim. The legislature decided that the innocent victim should not pay the price for the harm inflicted upon them, just because one particular defendant had less money than the others.
Missouri recently again changed its joint and several liability law. It presently reads as follows:
Joint and several liability of defendants in tort actions, allocation of responsibility for judgment–defendants several liability for punitive damages.
537.067. 1. In all tort actions for damages, if a defendant is found to bear fifty-one percent or more of fault, then such defendant shall be jointly and severally liable for the amount of the judgment rendered against the defendants. If a defendant is found to bear less than fifty-one percent of fault, then the defendant shall only be responsible for the percentage of the judgment for which the defendant is determined to be responsible by the trier of fact; except that, a party is responsible for the fault of another defendant or for payment of the proportionate share of another defendant if any of the following applies:
(1) The other defendant was acting as an employee of the party;
(2) The party’s liability for the fault of another person arises out of a duty created by the federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. Section 51.
- The defendants shall only be severally liable for the percentage of punitive damages for which fault is attributed to such defendant by the trier of fact.
- In all tort actions, no party may disclose to the trier of fact the impact of this section.
(L. 1987 H.B. 700 § 41, A.L. 2005 H.B. 393)
Applicability of statute changes to cases filed after August 28, 2005, 538.305
(2001) Joint and several liability applies to Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission; application of statute would not require the public payment of a private debt or the unconstitutional diversion of appropriated highway funds. Smith v. Coffey, 37 S.W.3d 797 (Mo.banc.).
With regards to joint and several liability for drug error cases, it is particular important to discuss this with a lawyer teamed with a local attorney. This is because medical insurance coverage may depend upon the present status of this type of law.