Business structures similar to LLCs have been in use in Europe since the nineteenth century. However, LLCs in the United States did not appear until the late 1970s. The state of Wyoming enacted the first LLC law in 1977, providing the first legal definition of the structure. Other states were slow to create LLC laws as they waited for the Internal Revenue Service to decide on how to treat LLCs for tax purposes. LLCs can now choose to be taxed as sole proprietorships, partnerships or corporations.
The "limited liability" in LLCs refers to the fact that owners, called members, are protected from personal liability for the business actions of the company. Consequently, if the LLC is sued or runs up debt, the personal assets of members cannot, in most cases, be used to satisfy claims from plaintiffs or creditors. This is a feature that LLC members have in common with the shareholders of corporations. However, liability is "limited" because members are not immune to suits involving civil wrongdoing, also known as a tort.
Abbreviations and Variations
Each state has rules regarding how the words “limited liability company” can be represented in a company name. These rules are generally explained in the “Name” sections of a state's LLC law. Generally, business owners can use the words "limited liability company" or “limited company” after the LLC's unique name. Some states allow “limited” to be abbreviated at “Ltd.” Commonly allowed abbreviations include “L.L.C,” “L.C.,” “LC” and “LLC”
States have restrictions on what type of companies may be defined as an LLC, including banks, trusts, credit unions and insurance companies. Consequently, LLCs are prohibited from using words in the company name that imply the firm is conducting business as a restricted type. Depending on the state, restrictions may also include LLCs that provide professional services such as doctors, therapists and acupuncturists.