Plaintiff was injured in July 2003 in a car accident involving Defendant. In the first lawsuit, Plaintiff had sought damages for a bad faith settlement of his property damage suit (arising from the car accident). A jury awarded Plaintiff money for his property losses. Then, Plaintiff brought the current (second lawsuit), suing for damages resulting from personal injuries received in the same car accident. The trial court dismissed, holding that Plaintiff‘s personal injury claims were part of the same cause of action as his previously dismissed property damage claims, and thus, were barred from litigation by the doctrine of res judicata. Plaintiff appealed.
All claims against a single defendant arising out of the same transaction, or series of connected transactions, must be brought in a single action.
Plaintiff was injured in July 2003 in a car accident involving Defendant. In August 2003, Plaintiff sued Defendant for the property damages caused to Plaintiff‘s vehicle. At trial, the jury awarded Plaintiff approximately $5,000 for the property damage. Plaintiff then sued Defendant in April 2005 for damages arising from personal injuries sustained in the crash. The trial court dismissed the second lawsuit, ruling that the personal injury claim was part of the same cause of action as the previous property damage claim and was merged with the prior judgment. Plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals of Kentucky.
Does the doctrine of res judicata bar Plaintiff‘s personal injury claims when his property damage claims were previously dismissed?
The law required that all claims against a single defendant that arose from a single transaction be brought in a single action. Although the doctrine of res judicata is an affirmative defense which Defendant is required to plead it in its response, a waiver should not be found where the affirmative defense is raised by a timely, non-prejudicial motion. Here, Defendant failed to plead a res judicata defense in his answer to the complaint. However, Defendant did raise the defense in a timely, non-prejudicial motion 5 months into the case and before either party had expended much on discovery. In addition, the court noted that Plaintiff‘s current personal injury claims and the property damages claims from the first lawsuit arose against a single defendant (Thomas) as a result of the same automobile accident. Plaintiff obtained a final judgment in the first lawsuit. Therefore, the doctrine of merger applied, barring Plaintiff from bringing personal injury claims that he should have brought in the first lawsuit. Thus, the court affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims.