primary liability

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Primary liability refers to an obligation for which a party is directly responsible for. 

Secondary liability, on the other hand, refers to an obligation that falls on another party if the directly responsible party fails to fulfill it. In some cases, parties will attempt to attach primary liability to “secondary” actors. An example may be found in the Stoneridge v. Scientific Atlanta decision, in which the plaintiff attempted to attach primary liability to a third party. The Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiff, restricting the scope of securities fraud lawsuits.

[Last updated in March of 2024 by the Wex Definitions Team]