liability,n.1. The quality or state of being legally obligated or accountable; legal responsibility to another or to society, enforceable by civil remedy or criminal punishment <liability for injuries caused by negligence>. — Also termed legal liability; responsibility; subjection. 2. (often pl.) A financial or pecuniary obligation; DEBT <tax liability> <assets and liabilities>.
“The term ‘liability’ is one of at least double signification. In one sense it is the synonym of duty, the correlative of right; in this sense it is the opposite of privilege or liberty. If a duty rests upon a party, society is now commanding performance by him and threatening penalties. In a second sense, the term ‘liability’ is the correlative of power and the opposite of immunity. In this case society is not yet commanding performance, but it will so command if the possessor of the power does some operative act. If one has a power, the other has a liability. It would be wise to adopt the second sense exclusively. Accurate legal thinking is difficult when the fundamental terms have shifting senses.” William R. Anson, Principles of the Law of Contract 9 (Arthur L. Corbin ed., 3d Am. ed. 1919).
“Liability or responsibility is the bond of necessity that exists between the wrongdoer and the remedy of the wrong. This vinculum juris is not one of mere duty or obligation; it pertains not to the sphere of ought but to that of must.” John Salmond, Jurisprudence 364 (Glanville L. Williams ed., 10th ed. 1947).
absolute liability.See strict liability.
accomplice liability.Criminal responsibility of one who acts with another before, during, or (in some jurisdictions) after a crime. See 18 USCA § 2. [Cases: Criminal Law 59. C.J.S. Criminal Law §§ 127, 998.]
accrued liability.A debt or obligation that is properly chargeable in a given accounting period but that is not yet paid.
alternative liability.Liability arising from the tortious acts of two or more parties — when the plaintiff proves that one of the defendants has caused harm but cannot prove which one caused it — resulting in a shifting of the burden of proof to each defendant. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 433B(3) (1965). [Cases: Products Liability 23; Torts 21. C.J.S. Products Liability §§ 40, 42; Torts §§ 36–38.]
civil liability. 1. Liability imposed under the civil, as opposed to the criminal, law. 2. The
state of being legally obligated for civil damages.
contingent liability.A liability that will occur only if a specific event happens; a liability that depends on the occurrence of a future and uncertain event. • In financial statements, contingent liabilities are usu. stated in footnotes.
current liability.A business liability that will be paid or otherwise discharged with current assets or by creating other current liabilities within the next year (or operating cycle). — Also termed short-term debt.
derivative liability.Liability for a wrong that a person other than the one wronged has a right to redress. • Examples include liability to a widow in a wrongful-death action and liability to a corporation in a shareholder’s derivative suit.
enterprise liability. 1. Liability imposed on each member of an industry responsible for manufacturing a harmful or defective product, allotted by each manufacturer’s market share of the industry. — Also termed industry-wide liability. See market-share liability. [Cases: Products Liability 23.1, 24. C.J.S. Products Liability § 41.] 2. Criminal liability imposed on a business (such as a corporation or partnership) for certain offenses, such as public-welfare offenses or offenses for which the legislature specifically intended to impose criminal sanctions. See Model Penal Code § 2.07. See public-welfare offense under OFFENSE(1).
fault liability.Liability based on some degree of blameworthiness. — Also termed fault-based liability. Cf. strict liability.
industry-wide liability.See enterprise liability.
joint and several liability.Liability that may be apportioned either among two or more parties or to only one or a few select members of the group, at the adversary’s discretion. • Thus, each liable party is individually responsible for the entire obligation, but a paying party may have a right of contribution and indemnity from nonpaying parties. See solidary liability. [Cases: Contracts 181; Negligence 484; Torts 22. C.J.S. Contracts §§ 366, 371; Negligence §§ 154–156; Torts §§ 39–44.]
joint liability.Liability shared by two or more parties. [Cases: Negligence 484; Torts 22.
C.J.S. Negligence §§ 154–156; Torts §§ 39–44.] liability in solido.See solidary liability. liability without fault.See strict liability.
limited liability.Liability restricted by law or contract; esp., the liability of a company’s owners for nothing more than the capital they have invested in the business. [Cases: Corporations 215. C.J.S. Corporations §§ 414, 417, 425, 427.]
market-share liability.Liability that is imposed, usu. severally, on each member of an industry, based on each member’s share of the market or respective percentage of the product that is placed on the market. • This theory of liability usu. applies only in the situation in which a plaintiff cannot trace the harmful exposure to a particular product, as when several products contain a fungible substance. For example, it is sometimes applied to a claim that the plaintiff was harmed by exposure to asbestos. See enterprise liability. [Cases: Products Liability 23.1, 24. C.J.S. Products Liability § 41.]
official liability.Liability of an officer or receiver for a breach of contract or a tort committed
during the officer’s or receiver’s tenure, but not involving any personal liability.
penal liability.Liability arising from a proceeding intended at least partly to penalize a wrongdoer. Cf. remedial liability.
personal liability.Liability for which one is personally accountable and for which a wronged
party can seek satisfaction out of the wrongdoer’s personal assets.
premises liability.See PREMISES LIABILITY.
primary liability.Liability for which one is directly responsible, as opposed to secondary liability.
products liability.See PRODUCTS LIABILITY.
remedial liability.Liability arising from a proceeding whose object contains no penal element. • The two types of proceedings giving rise to this liability are specific enforcement and restitution. Cf. penal liability. secondary liability.Liability that does not arise unless the primarily liable party fails to honor its obligation.
several liability.Liability that is separate and distinct from another’s liability, so that the plaintiff may bring a separate action against one defendant without joining the other liable parties. [Cases: Negligence 484; Torts 22. C.J.S. Negligence §§ 154–156; Torts §§ 39–44.]
shareholder’s liability. 1. The statutory, added, or double liability of a shareholder for a corporation’s debts, despite full payment for the stock. 2. The liability of a shareholder for any unpaid stock listed as fully owned on the stock certificate, usu. occurring either when the shareholder agrees to pay full par value for the stock and obtains the certificate before the stock is paid for, or when partially paid-for stock is intentionally issued by a corporation as fully paid, the consideration for it being entirely fictitious. — Also termed stockholder’s liability. [Cases: Corporations 215, 227. C.J.S. Corporations §§ 414, 417, 425, 427.]
solidary liability (sol-<<schwa>>-dair-ee).Civil law. The liability of any one debtor among two or more joint debtors to pay the entire debt if the creditor so chooses. La. Civ. Code art. 1794. • This is equivalent to joint and several liability in the common law. — Also termed liability in solido. See joint and several liability. [Cases: Negligence 484; Torts 22. C.J.S. Negligence §§ 154–156; Torts §§ 39–44.]
statutory liability.Liability that is created by a statute (or regulation) as opposed to common law.
stockholder’s liability.See shareholder’s liability.
strict liability.Liability that does not depend on actual negligence or intent to harm, but that is based on the breach of an absolute duty to make something safe. • Strict liability most often applies either to ultrahazardous activities or in products-liability cases. — Also termed absolute liability; liability without fault. Cf. fault liability; OUTCOME RESPONSIBILITY. [Cases: Negligence 301–307; Products Liability 5. C.J.S. Negligence §§ 170–179; Products Liability §§ 7–8.]
tortious liability.Liability that arises from the breach of a duty that (1) is fixed primarily by the law, (2) is owed to persons generally, and (3) when breached, is redressable by an action for unliquidated damages.
vicarious liability (vI-kair-ee-<<schwa>>s). Liability that a supervisory party (such as an employer) bears for the actionable conduct of a subordinate or associate (such as an employee) based on the relationship between the two parties. See RESPONDEAT SUPERIOR. [Cases: Master and Servant 300, 315; Negligence 483. C.J.S. Employer-Employee Relationship §§
181–184, 188–193, 203, 231–235, 242, 244–246, 248, 251–252, 254–255; Negligence §§ 152–153.]
“The vicarious liability of an employer for torts committed by employees should not be confused with the liability an employer has for his own torts. An employer whose employee commits a tort may be liable in his own right for negligence in hiring or supervising the employee. If in my business I hire a truck driver who has a record of drunk driving and on whom one day I detect the smell of bourbon, I (along with my employee) may be held liable for negligence if his driving causes injury. But that is not ‘vicarious’ liability — I am held liable for my own negligence in hiring that employee or letting him drive after I know he has been drinking.” Kenneth S. Abraham, The Forms and Functions of Tort Law 166 (2002).