li·​a·​bil·​i·​ty | \ ˌlī-ə-ˈbi-lə-tē How to pronounce liability (audio) \
plural liabilities

Definition of liability

1a : the quality or state of being liable was cleared of liability for the accident
2 : something for which one is liable especially : pecuniary obligation : debt usually used in plural business assets and liabilities
3 : one that acts as a disadvantage : drawback This scandal makes the candidate a liability for the party.

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Examples of liability in a Sentence

The company is trying to limit its liability in this case. a retired football player whose chief asset—his prodigious girth—has now become a liability
Recent Examples on the Web The dropoff between Martin and McGovern has predictably been steep; however, the Penn State product hasn’t been a liability. John Owning, Dallas News, "Film room: 3 Cowboys players to watch for the future during showdown vs. Eagles," 25 Dec. 2020 The job application process can be strenuous: Know that your mental health is not – and should never be – a liability. Johnny C. Taylor Jr., USA TODAY, "Should I tell my employer about my reckless driving charge? Ask HR," 10 Nov. 2020 The Jaguars' front five was a liability in losses to Tulane, UAB and Georgia Southern, allowing five sacks last week and getting stopped for losses in the running game on six other occasions. Creg Stephenson |, al, "Jaguar buzz: South Alabama faces tall task at Coastal Carolina," 7 Nov. 2020 Performative democracy, where the electorate can only decide between two candidates — in this case, a racist authoritarian wannabe and an advocate of tired neoliberal ideas — is a liability for a future where all can truly prosper equitably. San Diego Union-Tribune, "Commentary: San Diego’s leaders need to realize the power of the people is stronger than the people in power," 4 Nov. 2020 The very novelty of mail-in voting for many voters could be a liability in 2020. Erin Blakemore, National Geographic, "Here’s what happens if there isn’t a winner on Election Day," 3 Nov. 2020 The triple-double threat is a liability from the perimeter, keeping small ball from working to its full potential in Philadelphia. Dan Gelston, Star Tribune, "New 76ers president Morey: Embiid, Simmons can work together," 2 Nov. 2020 But the person who was involved in the discussions said the idea showed how efforts to combat misinformation are viewed internally as a political liability. Washington Post, "Trump allies, largely unconstrained by Facebook’s rules against repeated falsehoods, cement pre-election dominance," 31 Oct. 2020 Typically viewed as quaint, the store’s tight quarters became a liability in March as the coronavirus coursed through New Jersey. Kevin Armstrong, New York Times, "‘It’s Fall! Here We Are!’ A Beloved Chocolate Shop Returns," 16 Oct. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'liability.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of liability

1705, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

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Time Traveler for liability

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The first known use of liability was in 1705

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Statistics for liability

Last Updated

12 Jan 2021

Cite this Entry

“Liability.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Jan. 2021.

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More Definitions for liability


How to pronounce liability (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of liability

: the state of being legally responsible for something : the state of being liable for something
: something (such as the payment of money) for which a person or business is legally responsible
: someone or something that causes problems


li·​a·​bil·​i·​ty | \ ˌlī-ə-ˈbi-lə-tē How to pronounce liability (audio) \
plural liabilities

Legal Definition of liability

1 : the quality or state of being liable
2 : something for which one is liable: as
a : a financial obligation : debt tax liability the bonds are liabilities — compare asset
contingent liability
: an amount that may or may not be owed depending on the outcome of a contingency (as a cosigner's default on a loan)
fixed liability
: a liability (as a bond or mortgage) that does not mature for at least one year from the date incurred or from a given date
b : accountability and responsibility to another enforceable by civil remedies or criminal sanctions liability for injuries caused by their product
absolute liability
: strict liability in this entry
alternative liability
: joint liability imposed on multiple tortfeasors when there are simultaneous tortious acts (as defective manufacture of parts of a wheel by different manufacturers) and uncertainty as to which act was the proximate cause of an injury — compare concert of action sense 1
civil liability
: liability imposed under civil laws and civil process as distinguished from criminal laws also : the state of being subject to civil sanctions (as restitution or damages) the acquittal does not relieve the corporation of civil liability for its fraud — see also tort

Note: Civil liability is created by a legal theory or principle that places a duty or obligation (as to use due care) on the defendant.

corporate liability
: liability of a corporation that is enforced by sanctions imposed against the corporation itself — see also pierce
criminal liability
: liability imposed under criminal laws and by means of criminal prosecution also : the state of being subject to criminal sanctions
enterprise liability
: liability imposed on a business enterprise especially for on-the-job injuries to employees specifically : liability imposed on defendants who are all members of an industry that has produced a defective product when the specific manufacturer cannot be identified
joint and several liability
: joint liability imposed on joint tortfeasors that allows enforcement of the entire judgment against any one of the tortfeasors

Note: In some jurisdictions, joint and several liability remains despite adoption of comparative fault, and in others it has been eliminated by comparative fault.

joint liability
: liability that is shared (as by co-owners) specifically : liability for a tort that is imposed on joint tortfeasors when they have acted in concert, owe the same duty to the plaintiff, have a legal relationship, or otherwise together have caused an injury to the plaintiff and that allows contribution or indemnity between the joint tortfeasors
liability in solido
: solidary liability in this entry
liability without fault
: strict liability in this entry
personal liability
: liability imposed against an individual especially for injuries that occur on the individual's property or as a result of the individual's activities
premises liability
: liability arising from injuries or losses occurring on one's premises
primary liability
: liability imposed directly on a person because of his or her own negligence, default, or legal undertaking
products liability
: liability imposed on a manufacturer or seller for a defective and unreasonably dangerous product specifically : strict liability for a defective product that does not require the plaintiff to have privity of contract with the seller or manufacturer

called also product liability

Note: A plaintiff usually must show that a defective product was the proximate cause of injuries, was defective at the time of purchase, and was used for its intended purpose in order to establish a products liability claim.

secondary liability
1 : vicarious liability in this entry
2 : liability (as of a guarantor) that arises from a legal obligation owed to an injured party to pay damages for another's failure to perform or negligent act
several liability
: liability assumed or imposed on an individual separate from others
solidary liability
in the civil law of Louisiana : liability that is shared by obligors and that makes any one obligor liable for the entire obligation to the obligee but also apportions the liability among the obligors so that contribution is allowed specifically : such liability for a tort that is imposed on joint tortfeasors — see also solidary obligation at obligation
strict liability
: liability that is imposed without a finding of fault (as negligence or intent)
vicarious liability
: liability that is imposed for another's acts because of imputed or constructive fault (as negligence) — see also respondeat superior

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