noun li·a·bil·i·ty \ ˌlī-ə-ˈbi-lə-tē \
Updated on: 26 Jul 2017

Definition of liability

plural liabilities
1 a :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.

Examples of liability in a Sentence

  1. The company is trying to limit its liability in this case.

  2. a retired football player whose chief asset—his prodigious girth—has now become a liability

Recent Examples of liability from the Web

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.

First Known Use of liability


Financial Definition of LIABILITY


What It Is

Joint liability refers to the individual and collective obligation of more than one party on a loan.

How It Works

Joint liability is best illustrated by two married people who apply jointly for a credit card to maximize the amount of money they can borrow. If the credit card company approves their application, both spouses are responsible for any balance charged to the card. Should one spouse default on payments, the other is still liable for the full amount.

In a business partnership, joint liability includes a shared responsibility among all partners for damages, injuries or any outstanding debts. In other words, if a court finds a partnership at fault in a lawsuit, all compensation payments are the responsibility of all partners.

Why It Matters

Individuals seeking joint liability for credit must be aware of whom they choose to participate in a joint liability, because debts incurred by any one party become the obligation of all parties. Likewise, a partner in a partnership firm must be aware of any illegal or suspicious activities hold the other partners accountable, because all partners suffer the consequences if the firm is prosecuted and punished.

LIABILITY Defined for English Language Learners



Definition of liability for English Language Learners

  • : 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

Law Dictionary


noun li·a·bil·i·ty \ ˌlī-ə-ˈbi-lə-tē \

legal Definition of liability

plural liabilities
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 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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