The California Court of Appeal recently concluded that a plaintiff’s complaint against the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System and the San Diego Transit Corporation (MTS) was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. This doctrine bars re-litigating the same cause of action between the same parties when there has been a final judgment on the merits. In this lawsuit, the court held that the plaintiff’s two California car accident lawsuits were based on the same primary right to be free from injuries associated with the bus system.
The plaintiff in this case alleged that on April 14, 2012, an MTS bus driver negligently operated the bus and that this alleged negligence included letting the bus operate with defects in its video system. She was injured when the bus pulled away from the bus stop as she was banging on the side window of the bus, attempting to get the attention of the bus driver. That case went to trial, and the jury found in favor of MTS, so a final judgment was entered in favor of MTS. Then, the plaintiff filed another action, seeking relief for her injuries arising out of the April 2012 accident. That complaint alleged that a dangerous condition of public property caused her injuries and that the location of the bus stop was a dangerous condition of public property because the bus drivers could not see prospective passengers.
In response, MTS filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that the action was time-barred by the Government Claims Act filing requirement. According to law, there is a two-year statute of limitations period for injuries under the Government Claims Act. They argued that a delay due to the plaintiff’s failure to perform a diligent investigation does not delay the accrual of a cause of action.
Despite the plaintiff’s opposition that argued there was a triable issue of material fact regarding whether she had been delayed in discovering the lighting issue at the bus stop, the trial court entered judgment in favor of MTS.
The plaintiff appealed, and while the appeal was pending, the court requested briefing regarding whether res judicata barred the plaintiff from re-litigating the issues of her earlier case. The plaintiff argued that the exception to res judicata applied, since the second action was based on newly discovered facts.
Res judicata prevents plaintiffs from re-litigating the same cause of action in a second lawsuit between the same parties. Claim preclusion is evident when the second lawsuit involves the same cause of action between the same parties after a final judgment on the merits in the earlier case. The issue before the court was whether the same “cause of action” had been litigated. According to California law, to determine the “primary right,” the main factor is the nature of the harm suffered by the plaintiff, and the right is different from the legal theory asserted and the nature of the remedy sought.
According to personal injury law, a plaintiff has a right to freedom from bodily harm resulting from negligence. The court stated that when two actions involve the same primary right, res judicata prevents re-litigation, including of issues that could have been litigated in that proceeding.
In this case, the plaintiff asserted that her claim of a dangerous condition was a separate, distinct cause of action. However, the court noted that this depends on the nature of the harm suffered. Here, since both complaints were based on actions arising out of the injuries she suffered on April 14, 2012, they were based on the same right to be free from injuries. They also involved the same parties, and, according to the court, there was a final judgment on the merits.
In conclusion, the court held that the parties demonstrated the absence of a triable issue of material fact, and the trial court’s grant of summary judgment would be affirmed.
If you or someone close to you has been injured in an auto accident in the Southern California region, we can help. The dedicated car accident lawyers at Sharifi Firm represent accident victims by holding at-fault parties accountable for their careless conduct. Contact us at 1-866-422-7222 or reach us online for a free, no-obligation consultation.
More Blog Posts:
California Court of Appeals Upholds Decision to Grant New Trial on Damages in Bus Accident Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 26, 2015
Judgment in Favor of Defendant Transit System Upheld in Vehicle Accident Lawsuit, California Appellate Court Holds No Abuse of Discretion When Judge Excluded Plaintiff’s Expert Testimony, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, April 6, 2017