Limited liability companies play a valuable role in today's business world and are a common alternative to corporations. LLCs must be organized under state law and exist independently of the members. Owners of this type of business structure are generally free from personal liability for company debts beyond the loss of any investments. However, the shield is not absolute, and owners can be responsible if a business debt was personally guaranteed or any fraud or commingling of assets occurred.
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Like corporation owners (shareholders), with a few exceptions, LLC members are not personally liable for the debts or obligations of the business. If the LLC is sued, only the assets of the company may be acquired by a successful plaintiff. The personal bank accounts and other assets of the LLC members are not subject to litigation, even if an employee or other LLC member is responsible for the lawsuit. Because of the important protection that the LLC creates for its members, you must ensure that you do not lose liability protection by mismanaging the business.
Investments and Loans
Although LLC members ordinarily are not personally liable for business debts, when forming a new LLC you may take responsibility for some of the startup costs. Each member's financial liability is limited to the investment he has made in the company, meaning that you may lose your initial investment in the business. Additionally, some LLC members personally guarantee loans for the business, particularly if the business is new. In this case, they are personally responsible for repaying the business loan, even if the loan was made for the business. Similarly, if a member authorized a loan on behalf of the business, but was not authorized to do so, the member will instead be liable.
Although, in most cases, you would not be personally liable for the wrongdoing of an employee or other member of the LLC, you may be liable for your own personal wrongdoing. For example, if while working you negligently harm a customer, the customer may sue both you and the LLC. In this case, you could be financially liable for the lawsuit that was initiated against you, although you are not responsible for the business's portion of awarded damages.
In rare cases, a court may find that an LLC has been so mismanaged that the members are personally responsible for the financial liabilities of the business. When a court finds that the members have "pierced the corporate veil," this means the members did not keep their personal affairs separate from the business. For example, if you do not keep an LLC bank account separate from your personal account and treat the LLC money like your personal money, you may lose your liability protection. This may also occur if the business is undercapitalized, meaning it does not have enough money to pay its creditors and other expenses. Additionally, liability may be lost in cases of fraud, as when members misrepresent their financial status to creditors.