“Joint and Several” True Meaning Revealed

Do you find the phrase “joint and several” confusing? These are dangerous words to misunderstand. They show up frequently in various legal documents. Let me share some stories that reveal the true meaning of these words.

Joint means sharing, and in this story it means shared ownership. Rachel and Trevor had a joint bank account. Jointly, or together, they shared the money in their account. These are ownership rights to a bank account. (I will describe the dangers of joint ownership in another post.)

Several is not a word used every day, except perhaps in Shakespeare's time. It means separately or individually.

Variations of the words are “jointly and severally.” These words refer to rights, responsibilities or liabilities.

Summary: consider jointly as joined together and severally as individually or separately

Rachel and Trevor signed an apartment lease and agreed to share all expenses. The landlord added a rent clause that they were jointly and severally liable. The rent was $600 each month.

Now they were liable together and individually.

What if Rachel only paid $100 to the landlord next month? Trevor can’t force the landlord to collect another $200 from her.

Why not?

The words Joint and Several explain Trevor’s problem.

Trevor was not aware of this danger. He had agreed to be separately liable to pay all the rent. This happens regardless if Rachel skips out on rent.

Trevor is now stuck with paying all the rent to the landlord. It is as if he had a separate lease between him and the landlord.

Joint Liability 

Thomas's car stopped at a red light. He is struck from behind and pushed into the intersection. Thomas’s car is struck again by two other cars.

The drivers of all three three cars that hit Thomas are liable. They are individually responsible for all of damages to Thomas's car.

My next blog post will show you the dangers of joint liability in estate matters.