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Joint and Several Liability

Joint and several liability is a U.S. legal provision where all parties to a prosecution can be held individually liable for up to the full amount sought by a plaintiff, irrespective of the amount of responsibility the individual defendant may be for the overall cost. For example, a negligent ship's maintenance crew could be held severally responsible for the full cost of an oil spill occurring when the ship suffers a mishap. The very high costs of many forms of environmental degradation greatly exceed the ability of most defendants to pay. Consequently, there has been a tendency for plaintiffs and their legal representation in such cases to “search for deep pockets”—that is, attempt to prosecute those individuals and organizations considered best able to pay ...

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