Massachusetts Court Discusses Judicial Estoppel in Personal Injury Claims

When a person retains an attorney for any legal matter, it is critical that the person communicate candidly with the attorney to prevent the unwitting waiver of the right to pursue other claims. This was demonstrated in a recent case in which the court dismissed a plaintiff’s product liability lawsuit due to his failure to disclose his potential claims against the company that manufactured the product in a prior bankruptcy proceeding. If you were injured by a defective product, it is wise to meet with a knowledgeable Massachusetts personal injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss what measures you can take to protect your right to seek compensation.

Facts Regarding the Plaintiff’s Injury and Bankruptcy Proceeding

It is reported that in April 2018, the plaintiff purchased a battery-operated skateboard that was manufactured by the defendant. Two months later, while he was riding on the board, it suddenly shut off, causing him to be thrown into the air. The plaintiff sustained a concussion and shoulder injuries in the fall, which necessitated a trip to the emergency room. He subsequently suffered from headaches, memory loss, and back and neck pain due to his injuries. He emailed the defendant on the day of his accident and multiple times thereafter regarding the accident and the potentially defective nature of the board.

Allegedly, in October 2018, the plaintiff filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. In the course of his bankruptcy proceedings, he was required to list any claims he had against any other parties, including accidents, regardless of whether a lawsuit had been filed. He did not list the skateboard accident, however. In February 2019, the plaintiff’s debts were discharged, and his bankruptcy case was closed. The plaintiff then filed a lawsuit against the defendant asserting numerous claims and seeking $10 million in damages. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that judicial estoppel barred the plaintiff’s claims.

Judicial Estoppel Explained

If a person who files for bankruptcy fails to identify a potential claim as an asset, the person may be barred from pursuing the claim at a later date, under the doctrine of judicial estoppel. Judicial estoppel acts to protect the integrity of the courts by preventing parties from unjustly manipulating the justice system by changing their position in a subsequent proceeding based on a change in interests. In other words, a person cannot deny the existence of a claim in one case only to resurrect the claim at a later date.

For judicial estoppel to apply, there must be a direct inconsistency between the estopping and estopped positions. The court noted that a failure to disclose a potential claim in a bankruptcy case is considered an inconsistent position, as the claim is the property of a bankruptcy estate, not the person. Additionally, the person must have succeeded on his or her prior claim, which means the court accepted his or her previous position. In bankruptcy proceedings, the court accepts a person’s position if it discharges the person’s debt. In the subject case, the court found that both conditions required for judicial estoppel to apply were present. Thus, the court granted the defendant’s motion.

Meet with a Seasoned Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorney

If you were injured by a defective product, it is prudent to meet with a seasoned Massachusetts personal injury attorney regarding your potential damages. The capable personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan are adept at aiding injured parties in the pursuit of compensation, and we will work zealously on your behalf to help you seek a favorable result. You can reach us at 508-822-6600 or via our form online to schedule a complimentary and confidential meeting.