When an at-fault party is faced with a lawsuit, they will raise any and all legal defenses available to avoid liability. In all litigation, courts attempt to avoid duplicative processes to provide efficient and effective justice. The legal doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel bar re-litigating claims or issues that have been previously decided on the merits in a prior adjudication in a final judgment. In complicated personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits with multiple parties, doctrines like res judicata and collateral estoppel are often utilized to bar or limit claims an injured party, estate, or family member may have.
In Resto vs. City of Lawrence (14-P-1711), an 11-year-old boy was hit by a car crossing a street undergoing a lot of construction. A motorist driving his car at a high rate of speed hit the child, who died as a result of his injuries. The administratrix of the estate filed suit against the driver of the car as well as companies that were hired by the city to perform construction work at the high school. The estate alleged in an amended complaint that the construction companies did not take proper steps to mitigate the intersection’s pedestrian safety issues. A year after the original complaint was filed, the estate filed to amend a second time and added the Massachusetts city as a defendant. The estate alleged the city failed to maintain signage about the increased pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
The trial court judge denied the amendment, determining that the city did not owe a duty to the deceased boy and that its negligence was not the proximate cause of the accident. The companies hired by the city later filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that the court’s reasoning in its prior refusal to allow the addition of the city applied to them. The companies felt this logic should extend to them – that no duty of care was owed to the child who died, and that their negligence was not the proximate cause of the child’s injuries. The judge agreed, and the claims against the companies were dismissed through the court’s entry of summary judgments.
While seeking an appeal on the amendments, the estate filed a separate action against the city, alleging that the city did not take reasonable steps to implement effective safety measure and protocols around the site where the car accident occurred. This issue was sent back to the court that had handled the issues described above to determine whether or not the claim was barred by res judicata. The judge agreed that the complaints were barred by res judicata, and that once again, no duty was owed to the injured child. That decision was also appealed, but the Massachusetts Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court’s ruling. The appellate court reasoned that the facts at issue were identical, and so the final order and reasoning in the other case applied to the second set of claims filed against the city, even though it also involved the construction companies.
The path to holding defendants liable for their contributions to the injury or injuries sustained can be a challenging one. The Massachusetts personal injury attorneys at Karsner & Meehan have the experience you need to push back against a defendant’s arguments and maximize the damages you deserve. Call today at 508.822.6600 for a free, confidential consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Appeals Court of Massachusetts Case Reveals The Difficulty People Face When Contesting a Will, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, March 3, 2016
Rear-end Collision Appellate Case Helps Illustrate Burden of Proof Considerations in Massachusetts Personal Injury Cases, Massachusetts Injury Lawyers Blog, February 3, 2016