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If I get into a car accident with disputed liability and a passenger in the other car get injured, and I sue the other driver...

San Jose, CA |

If the judge or the jury decides that I am not at fault, and later on the injured passenger sues me, can I just refer to the first lawsuit to prove that I am not liable for the accident so that this lawsuit should be dismissed? Or the second lawsuit will be treated as an independent case and we have to go through the trial all over again?

Attorney Answers 5


You raise an issue that is covered by the "Doctrine of Collateral Estoppel". The short answer is that even though you were successful in the earlier lawsuit, since the passenger was not a party to that lawsuit, you can not use the earlier determination to dismiss the passenger's later lawsuit. Parenthetically, if you lose the earlier lawsuit, the passenger can use that determination to have you held liable in his/her later lawsuit. The reasoning behind the foregoing application is that the passenger did not have a "full and fair" opportunity to litigate the issue of liability in the earlier lawsuit not being a party thereto, while you were.

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If you are found at fault in the first suit, it can be used as evidence of liability against you in the second suit. If you are deemed not at fault in the first action, it can not be used as affirmative evidence that you are not at fault in the second because the passenger was not a party in the first case.

The above is general information only and is not legal advice. The information provided does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should not be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney until we sign a retainer agreement.

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You would turn the paperwork over to your insurance company to investigate and resolve.

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If you win, there is a liklihood that you will be able to claim that the passenger must obtain any damages from the other driver. I would, however, give notice to your insurance carrier.

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In all likelihood new litigation would need to be pursued, as the parties in the first suit are not the same as in the 2nd and no estoppel would apply. Report the incident to your automobile liability insurance carrier and let them worry about this.

Legal Disclaimer:

If this information has been helpful, please indicate below.

Mr. Lundeen is licensed to practice law in Florida and Vermont. The response herein is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter within the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and timelines that, if known, could significantly change the reply and make it unsuitable. Mr. Lundeen strongly advises the questioner to confer with an attorney in your state in order to ensure proper advice is received.

This ans. does not create an attorney/client relationship.

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