California Joint & Several – Prop 51. What Does It Mean?

California Joint & Several – Prop 51 can best be described as the concept of holding an innocent party harmless when there are multiple tortfeasors. 

A California Supreme Court decision in 2020 stated that while California’s Proposition 51 (Civil Code section 1431.2) states that all defendants are jointly liable for damages, “each defendant shall be liable only for…non-economic damages…in direct proportion to that defendant’s percentage of fault.” What this means is each tortfeasor is severally liable for the innocent party’s non-economic damages proportional to their liability for the loss, but jointly liable for the innocent party’s economic damages, no matter their portion of liability so long as there is some liability on all of the tortfeasors. 

To know how to apply California Joint & Several – Prop 51 correctly, first we must understand what economic damages and non-economic damages are. Economic damages are damages incurred to which a dollar amount can be definitively attached. Economic or “monetary” damages include, but are not limited to, medical bills, property damage (i.e., vehicle damage, rental, etc.), loss of income, and the like. Non-economic damages are damages that do not necessarily involve out-of-pocket money or expenses. Non-economic damages would include, but are not limited to, pain and suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience, etc.