Multiple Defendants In California Personal Injury Actions


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This article will address the dynamics involved in a personal injury lawsuit involving multiple defendants.  It is extremely important to name all potential defendants in these actions.  If not done so, you may face an empty chair defense.  Another advantage is that multiple defendants may help you prove your case with less effort.

Proposition 51

Proposition 51 was officially adopted on June 3, 1986.  Proposition 51 was passed and now each named Defendant to a lawsuit is responsible in proportion to their degree of fault.  This changed the old rule of Joint And Several Liability where each party is responsible for the damages collectively.

Proposition 51 was codified at California Civil Code § 1431.2, which reads in relevant part as follows, “in any action for personal injury, property damage or wrongful death, based upon principles of comparative fault, the liability of each defendant for non-economic damages shall be several only and shall not be joint. Each defendant shall be liable only for the amount of non-economic damages allocated to that defendant in direct proportion to that defendant's percentage of fault, and a separate judgment shall be rendered against that defendant for that amount.”

Importance of Naming All Potential Defendants

If all potential defendants are not named, the recovery for your personal injury lawsuit can be compromised.  In order to fully understand this concept, an example is necessary.

If you are the first car in a three car collision, you must name both cars that were involved.  As the first car involved in such an accident, you probably experienced two different impacts.  The first impact occurs when the first car strikes you.  The second impact occurs when the third car strikes the second car.  As a result of the mechanics of this accident, the individual in the first car may experience two separate injury causing impacts.

Both parties will be found to have violated California Vehicle Code, which makes it an infraction to follow another party too closely.

The Empty Chair Defense

If the injured party only chooses to proceed against the first driver who struck him, the first driver may claim that he was responsible for some of the injuries you suffered.  They will claim that the second impact was the impact that caused you injuries.  The defense counsel will hire experts to testify to that fact. 

At the end of the case, the defense counsel will make a big closing argument to the jury.  The defense expert will state that everyone is sorry that you have been injured and inconvenienced but the defendant is not responsible for your injuries.  They will point to an empty chair and say that the responsible party should be sitting in the empty seat. 

Second Defendants May Help   

Naming all potential defendants in a lawsuit may help to facilitate the case.  Any attorney who files a lawsuit against multiple parties should have a legal theory of liability in place against each defendant.  Each theory should be pleaded with as much factual support as possible.   It is absolutely important that this is done.  The reason being is that each separately named may assist in the prosecution of the  case against the other defendant.

One party may conduct much investigation into the matter and may bring forward an idea that was not considered or they may be willing to spend a lot of money in an attempt to place the other party completely at fault.  Each Defendant ends up attempting to prove their own responsibility for the accident.

If you have been involved in accident involving multiple parties, do not attempt to handle the matter on your own.  Please consult with a skilled personal injury attorney in your state.

From the author: San Francisco Personal Injury Attorney

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