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Does res judicata apply in small claims court in CA?

Fresno, CA |

I was sued in small claims for property damage from an auto accident. I only had $5000 in coverage for property damage but the total amount was $6550 in repairs. The total judgment was $7200 to include rental car. Then a year later and the same guy sued me for the same accident, but this time for his injury because he wanted more pain and suffering money than the insurance company offered. My insurance company said to tell the judge that this is res judicata and request that it is dismissed. Again the judge found in favor of the plaintiff, $7500. Was my claims adjuster wrong, or can I appeal this? I know I don't have to pay because I have $15,000 in injury coverage, but this just seems wrong. Can he just keep dragging me to court for the same accident?

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Attorney answers 3


If the initial small claims action related only to property damages, and the second only to pain and suffering then it is likely okay. While plaintiffs are generally not allowed to split a cause of action in superior court, the small claims court will some time allow it. However, it is not appropriate even in small claims to sue for property damage once and then sue again for the same property damage. That would be an easy way to circumvent the dollar limit of the venue.

As the insurer is the one responsible for paying, have their attorneys research this issue for you. It is their nickel, not yours.

Good luck to you.

This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this answer should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of competent counsel after disclosing all facts to that attorney. This answer is intended for California residents only. The answering party is only licensed to practice in the State of California.


The judge was correct on the notion of res judicata. The law here is a little abstract, but basically you can treat injury to your property as one lawsuit, and injury to your body as a second one without running afoul of the rule on res judicata.

If your only issue on appeal is res judicata, then you likely will lose. You may have other issues, however, that are worth appealing. This should be discussed with your claims adjuster, if your insurer is truly on the hook for these claims.



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