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Contribution, Joint Liability

A common defense of a defendant in a civil lawsuit is that another third-party is partially responsible for any harm caused. Defendants, therefore, will often plead and argue for “contribution” when more than one person is potentially at fault. Missouri law is clear that when “two or more persons become liable in tort to the same person for the same harm, there is a right of contribution among them.” Miles ex rel. Miles v. Rich, 347 S.W.3d 477, 482 (Mo. Ct. App. 2011). Contribution functions to proportionately divide the injured party’s (i.e., the plaintiff) overall damage figure according to the joint wrongdoers’ relative degree of fault. Union Elec. Co. v. Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer Dist., 258 S.W.3d 48, 54-55 (Mo. 2008). To maintain an action for contribution, the defendant seeking the contribution — as well as the party against whom contribution is sought — must be jointly at fault and both originally liable to the injured party/plaintiff. 

From a defendant’s perspective, it is better to generally to be partially responsible for any adverse monetary judgment as opposed to wholly responsible. If you are defending a civil lawsuit, then, it is important to see if others are potentially resposnible for the alleged harm. Contact with questions.