Sustaining a serious injury in an accident can affect you physically, psychologically, and financially. For instance, if you are unable to work due to an accident caused by someone else, or you need help performing certain daily tasks or caring for yourself, you may need to bring a personal injury claim for compensation.

What about a situation where multiple people have caused the injury? This article looks at liability in a civil claim in British Columbia where two or more people have acted to cause an injury. This is a complex area of personal injury law and, as always, you should obtain personalized advice from an experienced personal injury litigator to understand all of your options.

Two or more people can be responsible for causing personal injury

In some cases, a person can suffer a single injury through the involvement of more than one person. This can happen in at least two different scenarios. Firstly, the injury may result from the shared acts of two or more people. For example, these people may act together to execute a common plan which results in an injury.

Secondly, two or more people can cause an injury due to separate negligent acts. This might be the case where, for example, two people get into a fight after they have been served too much alcohol at a bar. One or both of the people might be responsible for the injuries sustained, along with the bar.

Multiple defendants can be held severally liable

These types of situations are regulated under the Negligence Act in British Columbia. However, please note that there are some exceptions under other pieces of legislation.

Turning to the basic principles, under section 4(1) of the Negligence Act, the court needs to determine the degree to which each person was at fault if an injury has been caused through the fault of two or more people. Depending on the circumstances, such as in the example above, the court might find that one of the people was 80% at fault and the bar was 20% at fault for the injuries sustained by the other person in the fight. This is referred to as several liability.

The defendants are also generally jointly liable

Under section 4(2)(a) of the Negligence Act, where the fault of multiple people caused an injury, they are also jointly liable to the plaintiff. This means that the plaintiff can collect the entire compensation amount from any one of the defendants.

This can have substantial implications if one of the defendants does not have the funds to pay their share of the compensation because the plaintiff can seek to recover the full amount from another defendant. There is often a common tactic to try and attribute fault, even a small percentage, to a defendant that has deep pockets, perhaps because they are covered under an insurance policy.

Defendants may be entitled to contribution or indemnity

However, the defendant who pays compensation to the plaintiff may have recourse against the other defendant(s) for their share of the damage sustained by the plaintiff. Section 4(2)(b) of the Negligence Act states that:

“as between [the defendants], in the absence of a contract express or implied, they are liable to contribute to and indemnify each other in the degree to which they are respectively found to have been at fault.”

Contribution refers to the situation where one defendant makes a claim against someone else, who was also at fault for the plaintiff’s injuries, to recover the share of the compensation paid that was attributable to their degree of fault. Indemnity is a claim by the defendant against someone else for the entire amount of compensation and may apply in an insurance or contractual context.

Returning to the above example, if the plaintiff sues the bar and proves that it was negligently responsible for the injury, the bar could attempt in a separate claim to obtain a contribution from the other person involved in causing the plaintiff’s injury.

Plaintiffs are sometimes contributorily negligent

Sometimes the defendant(s) may successfully argue that the plaintiff was also responsible for causing the injury they suffered.

This situation is covered by section 1 of the Negligence Act, which states that liability for the injury is in proportion to the degree that each person was at fault. If the court cannot establish different degrees of fault, liability must be apportioned equally.

Returning to the bar example, if the plaintiff is partially responsible for the situation that caused their injuries, the court might find that they were 20% at fault, the other person was 50% to blame and the bar was 30% at fault for the injuries sustained. The amount of compensation that the plaintiff can claim will be reduced by their own degree of fault, which, in this case, would be 20%.

If the plaintiff is contributorily negligent, multiple defendants are severally liable, but not jointly liable

If the plaintiff was partially at fault for their injuries and is found to be contributorily negligent, this changes the situation with respect to the liability of the other defendants.

Section 1(3) of the Negligence Act says:

“Nothing in this section operates to make a person liable for damage or loss to which the person’s fault has not contributed.”

Rather than providing for joint liability amongst the defendants, when the plaintiff is contributorily negligent as well, the defendants are only liable for the percentage of the loss that corresponds with their individual degree of fault. In the above example, the plaintiff can recover 30% of the compensation from the bar and 50% from the other person. The bar is not jointly liable in respect of this other 50%.

Contact the Personal Injury Lawyers at Meridian Law Group in Vancouver for Representation in Personal Injury Claims

The experienced personal injury lawyers at Meridian Law Group in Vancouver understand the consequences of serious personal injury and the law that applies in British Columbia. We work diligently towards obtaining the maximum compensation possible to help our clients recover from their injuries. To understand whether you may have a personal injury claim, please call us at 604-687-2277 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.