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Partnership Liability for Torts

15 January, 2016 - 09:35

The rules affecting partners’ tort liability (discussed in Contract Liability ) and those affecting contract liability are the same. Section 13 of UPA says the partnership is liable for “any wrongful act or omission of any partner acting in the ordinary course of the business of the partnership or with the authority of his co-partners.” 1 A civil “wrongful act” is necessarily either a tort or a breach of contract, so no distinction is made between them. (Section 305 of RUPA changed the phraseology slightly by adding after any wrongful act or omission the words or other actionable conduct; this makes the partnership liable for its partner’s no-fault torts.) That the principal should be liable for its agents’ wrongdoings is of course basic agency law. RUPA does expand liability by allowing a partner to sue during the term of the partnership without first having to get out of it, as is required under UPA.

For tortious acts, the partners are said to be jointly and severally liable under both UPA and RUPA, and the plaintiff may separately sue one or more partners. Even after winning a judgment, the plaintiff may sue other partners unnamed in the original action. Each and every partner is separately liable for the entire amount of the debt, although the plaintiff is not entitled to recover more than the total of his damages. The practical effect of the rules making partners personally liable for partnership contracts and torts can be huge. In his classic textbook Economics, Professor Paul Samuelson observed that unlimited liability “reveals why partnerships tend to be confined to small, personal enterprises.…When it becomes a question of placing their personal fortunes in jeopardy, people are reluctant to put their capital into complex ventures over which they can exercise little control.…In the field of investment banking, concerns like JPMorgan Chase used to advertise proudly ‘not incorporated’ so that their creditors could have extra assurance. But even these concerns have converted themselves into corporate entities.” 2