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4.4-19 Joint and Several Contracts

Revised to June 3, 2011

If you find that the contract was breached and that the breach caused damages to the plaintiff, you must then determine to what extent each of the defendants is liable for those damages.

Where each of the defendants agrees to be liable in full for performance of the contract, they each become fully responsible and liable for all damages resulting from a breach of the contract, whether they or one of their fellow defendants committed the breach.

Where each of the defendants agrees to be liable for only part of the performance of the contract, each is only responsible for performance of (his/her/its) obligations and only liable for damages resulting from (his/her/its) breach of those obligations. Under our law, there is a presumption that where two or more parties agree to the same performance, they are all fully liable for that performance, unless the contract says otherwise.1

You must determine whether all the defendants intended to promise to the plaintiff the same performance regarding the obligation that was breached. If they did, they are all liable for the full damages resulting from the breach. If they did not, then you must determine (which/who) among the defendants is or are liable, and for each, for how much (he/she/it) is liable.

The first place to look to find the partiesí intent is the wording that was used in the contract. Words in a contract are to be given their ordinary meaning [,unless they are special terms of trade or the parties have given them special meaning]. If you cannot determine what was intended from the language of the contract, you may consider the circumstances surrounding the making of the contract. You may also consider the motives of the parties and the end they sought to accomplish by the contract. However, the circumstances surrounding the making of the contract, the purposes the parties sought to accomplish, and their motives cannot prove an intent contrary to the plain meaning of the language.

Finally, what is important is the intent the defendants expressed to the plaintiff. The fact that among themselves the defendants may have intended a certain division of responsibility or liability is not relevant if that intent was never expressed to the plaintiff. The defendantsí liability must be determined based on what the defendants actually communicated to the plaintiff through the contract and, if necessary, the surrounding circumstances.
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1 It is possible that the defendants all agreed to be liable for the performance of part of the contract, but individually liable for the performance of other parts of the contract. If so, the charge should be modified accordingly.

Authority

Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C. v. Beckett, 269 Conn. 613, 658-66 (2004); Effect of Contract Language, Instruction 4.2-1; Consideration of Surrounding Circumstances, Instruction 4.2-2.


 

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