As anyone who has been involved in a lawsuit can tell you, litigation is rarely a fast or efficient process. It may take years for a case to proceed from the initial complaint all the way to a jury trial, with plaintiffs left waiting in the wings throughout. Courts recognize that litigating lawsuits can be a time consuming and lengthy endeavor, and are constantly seeking to make the process more efficient and less costly for parties. One way to do this is to ensure that courts do not have to duplicate their efforts by dealing with the same issues in multiple different lawsuits. In a recent case before the Tennessee Court of Appeals, the court considered these issues in addressing whether the victim of a truck accident could bring his own lawsuit at the same time that his insurer had a lawsuit already in court.
This case arises out of a truck accident that occurred in 2012. R.W. was driving a tractor trailer truck when she accidentally backed into D.K., causing him serious injury. D.K. was working at the time and his employer offered him insurance coverage for his medical treatment and the lost wages that he incurred. Almost a year later, the insurer, Old Republic, brought a lawsuit against R.W. in court, seeking to recover the expenses that it had paid to D.K. and arguing that R.W.’s negligence caused the accident. Old Republic took the position that D.K. had assigned any legal claims that he had to them for them to pursue. D.K. initially sought representation and his attorneys filed an entry of appearance in the case. However, D.K. ultimately decided that rather than intervening in Old Republic’s case, he would rather file his own complaint, claiming that negligence by R.W. caused his accident, in a separate court proceeding. D.K. also requested that the court dismiss the lawsuit filed by Old Republic and allow his lawsuit to proceed first. The trial court agreed and Old Republic appealed.
On appeal, Old Republic argued that under the prior suit doctrine, its lawsuit was filed first and should have been the only lawsuit allowed to proceed. Under the prior suit doctrine, a party cannot raise a new lawsuit to address the same claims if there was a prior suit pending in the same jurisdiction for the same cause of action. The prior suit doctrine only applies where (1) the lawsuits involve identical subject matter, (2) the lawsuits are between the same parties, (3) the former lawsuit is pending in a court with subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute, and (4) the former lawsuit is pending before the court with personal jurisdiction over the lawsuit as well.
Here, the Court of Appeals noted that the lawsuit filed by D.K. clearly involved the same subject matter and that the court had jurisdiction over the original lawsuit filed by Old Republic. The appeals court also determined that the same parties were involved in both disputes because the parties represented the same claim and were “in effect the same.” In light of these findings, and the fact that Old Republic had filed its lawsuit long before D.K. filed his, the appellate court determined that D.K.’s lawsuit was prohibited under the prior suit doctrine. Rather, it held that D.K. should be added as a necessary and indispensable party in Old Republic’s lawsuit to ensure that his interests were well represented. The appellate court vacated the lower court decision and remanded for further proceedings.
If you are involved in a lawsuit where there are multiple potential plaintiffs, it is important to coordinate with these plaintiffs when considering a lawsuit. Unless your claims are based on very different issues or circumstances, it is likely that only one lawsuit will be allowed, and it will be the lawsuit that is filed first. Rather than a race to the start line, it often makes sense for plaintiffs to work together so the best lawsuit possible is filed. If you are concerned about your right to file a lawsuit in a case involving several potential plaintiffs, experienced Tennessee accident attorney Eric Beasley can help you evaluate whether it makes sense to go ahead and file, or if it is better to coordinate your efforts. For more information or to discuss the circumstances of your case, contact the Law Office of Eric Beasley today at 615-859-2223.
Related Blog Posts:
Tennessee Court Denies Sudden Emergency Defense in Car Accident Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, January 11, 2017
Sixth Circuit Overturns Harsh Pleading Standard in Auto Accident Case, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, December 6, 2016.
The Necessity of Proving Causation in Tennessee Auto Accident Claims -Denton v. Taylor, Tennessee Personal Injury Blog, August 18, 2016