The law requires that all claims against a single defendant that arise from a single incident be brought in a single action.
The plaintiff sued for damages resulting from personal injuries received in a car accident. In a previous suit, the plaintiff had sought damages for a bad faith settlement of his property damage suit (arising from the same car accident). The trial court in the previous suit dismissed the plaintiff’s claims. In the current suit, the trial court dismissed again. It reasoned that the plaintiff was trying to “piecemeal” his previous claims and re-litigate them. The trial court held that the plaintiff’s personal injury claims were part of the same cause of action as his previously dismissed property damage claims and were barred from litigation by the doctrine of res judicata. The plaintiff appealed.
Does the doctrine of res judicata bar the plaintiff’s personal injury claims when his property damage claims were previously dismissed?
The court held that the real “thrust” of the plaintiff’s suit is the bad faith settlement claims. Thus, the plaintiff was seeking the same damages as the first suit and the doctrine of merger applies. Further, the court reasoned that the defendant waived a res judicata defense when he failed to plead it in his answer to the complaint. As the doctrine is an affirmative defense, the party is required to plead it in its response. However, the court stated that a waiver should not be found where the affirmative defense is raised by a timely, non-prejudicial motion, as it did here. Thus, the law requires that all claims against a single defendant that arise from a single incident be brought in a single action. It affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims.