One branch of the rule of res judicata deals with prior adjudication as a bar. Under it a cause of action finally determined between the parties on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction, cannot again be litigated by new proceedings before the same or any other tribunal, except by way of review according to law. Such a judgment or decree so rendered is a complete bar to any subsequent action on the same claim or cause of action, between the same parties, or those in privity with them. Every question which was within the issues, and which, under the issues, might have been proved, will be presumed to have been proved and adjudicated. The rule is perhaps best described as "estoppel by judgment."
Appellee driver filed an action after his automobile collided with a train operated by appellant railroad under the direction of appellant engineer. In addition to the driver's action, the passenger filed a companion action, in which the jury found against the driver. In an interlocutory order, the Warrick Circuit Court (Indiana) granted partial summary judgment to estop the railroad from denying its negligence. On appeal, the court affirmed the grant of partial summary judgment.
Did the trial court err in ruling that a final judgment in the driver's case was not res judicata to the case of passenger for defendant's negligence?
Estoppel by judgment did not apply because the driver's cause of action in the companion case for loss of services and consortium was different than his cause of action for his own personal injuries. However, estoppel by verdict did apply. If the driver's case would have gone to trial on all the issues raised in the pleadings and answer, some facts or questions determined and adjudicated in the companion case would again have been put in issue. Thus, partial summary judgment to estop the railroad from denying negligence was proper because the railroad failed to show that the judgment against the driver in the companion action could not have been rendered without deciding that the driver was contributorily negligent.