Joint LiabilityDefined along with Examples

Lisa Borga

Joint liability refers to an obligation on the part of two or more parties to satisfy a debt or other liability.

Under joint liability, all involved parties are equally responsible for all debt obligations undertaken and the risks of liability in the event of a lawsuit.

This is often the situation in a partnership in which all partners would be equally responsible for the business debts undertaken by any partner.

Joint Liability Explained

Joint liability refers to the degree of liability that is assigned to two or more individuals involved in a business or other undertaking.

Joint liability means that all involved parties possess “joint” liability for any debts and other risks involved, such as if a lawsuit were to occur.

This type of liability may occur in the case of two or more individuals applying for credit as co-borrowers or in certain business arrangements such as a general partnership.

In the case of a general partnership, all partners hold responsibility for a contract entered into by any partner regardless of the level of knowledge or consent of the other partners in the organization.

In other words, every party involved in the partnership would be held responsible by a court for any monetary damages that are held against your partnership.

Under joint liability, a creditor may file one lawsuit for a given debt because all parties are equally responsible for its full repayment.

With a partnership, this generally means that a creditor will choose to file a lawsuit against the party they believe is most likely to be able to repay the debt because they will be unable to seek additional relief from the other partners.

Though joint liability can present risks for those involved, it can also assist in receiving funding. A creditor may find that an individual’s financial standing is insufficient to grant a loan.

However, the addition of a co-applicant such as the other members of a general partnership may improve creditors’ confidence in their ability to recover a debt.

General Partnership vs LLC

Example of Joint Liability

As an example of joint liability, consider the generous partnership with Widget Retailers.

This business is owned and run by the partners Mr. X and Mr. Y.

The company applied for and received a $1 million dollar loan without the knowledge of Mr. X and later defaulted on the loan.

Because Widget Retailers is a general partnership in which all partners are permitted to enter into contracts on behalf of the company, both parties automatically enter the loan as co-borrowers.

This means that both Mr. X and Y will be held liable for repaying the loan regardless of which entered into the agreement or whether they were aware of it.

However, if one partner were to repay the liability, the other partner would be relieved of any responsibility.

What Is the Difference Between Joint Liability and Several Liability?

Joint liability and several liability are actually opposite concepts.

In joint liability, all partners are responsible for any of the business’s debts or risks.

In contrast, with several liability, each partner is only responsible for their portion of the debt or obligation.

As an example, suppose the business takes out a business loan in which the partners are severally liable.

This means that if the business defaults on the loan, each partner would only be responsible for their portion of the business loan.

So, the lender could only sue each partner for their portion of the loan.

What Is the Difference Between Joint Liability and Jointly and Severally Liable?

If the partners in a business are joint and severally liable for a debt, any of the partners in the business can be sued by the creditor. It is different from joint liability in that if only one of the partners pays the debt, this partner can then sue the other partners to try to obtain their share of the debt. If partners are joint and severally liable, it is ultimately up to the defendants to settle who pays what share of the debt.

Advantages & Disadvantages of Joint Liability

pros of business partnership


  • Joint liability is often thought to be fair because if the partners in a business have a financial loss, it is fair that they all pay for it. Under this view, it is assumed that if one partner didn’t pay sufficient attention to what the others were doing, it is that partner’s fault, and they should still have to pay for the loss.
  • In a joint liability business, all partners will be careful to prevent a liability as they will all be responsible if sued.
  • Joint liability trials are not as complex as several liability trials. If a charge is proven to be correct, the creditor will receive full compensation.
  • In several liability, a partner will only pay their share of the liability. Whereas, in joint liability, a partner may be required to pay the entire damage.


  • Some people may believe that it is unfair to have all partners be responsible for the entire loss when not all of the partners may have been responsible for the loss.
  • This type of arrangement may make new partners reluctant to join the business out of fear they could be responsible for mistakes another partner makes.
  • In joint liability businesses, the wealthiest partner tends to be sued, which can cause less wealthy partners to take more business risks assuming the wealthier partner will be the one to be sued if a lawsuit occurs.

Final Thoughts

Joint liability is useful for start-up ventures where obtaining a loan from a bank is the first step.

It can allow the new business to use the credit profiles of all of the business partners to obtain funds.

Additionally, it can make it possible to fund the business in such a way as to be able to spend on research and other expenditures.

Key Takeaways

  • Joint liability refers to a situation in which two or more individuals are responsible for a debt or other liabilities.
  • Joint liability is often the result of multiple individuals applying for credit. In this case, each individual’s credit profile can contribute toward receiving funds, and each party will be equally responsible for any debts.
  • One of the most common situations in which joint liability may occur is in the case of a general partnership. In this type of organization, if any party enters into an agreement, then all members will hold responsibility for it.
  • When multiple individuals hold joint liability for a debt, a creditor can sue any party in order to recover it. Typically, they will choose to sue the party they believe to be most financially solvent.

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  1. Cornell Law School "joint liability" Page 1 . August 11, 2022

  2. Cornell Law School "joint and several liability" Page 1 . August 11, 2022