In the case of Carpenter v. Kenneth Thompson Builder, Inc., it doesn’t appear the plaintiff acted with any maliciousness. Rather, the actions reflect a last-ditch effort to ensure all relevant defendants were included in the litigation. A big part of the problem, however, was that attorneys waited until the last minute to file an amended complaint. When it became clear a hearing on the matter wouldn’t be held prior to the expiration of the statute of limitations on the claim, a second lawsuit was filed, followed with a request to join the two cases.
However, our West Palm Beach injury lawyers understand the end result was that both cases were dismissed for impermissible claim-splitting. The whole fiasco likely could have been avoided if the complaint had been amended sooner, particularly given the fact that attorneys were aware of the secondary defendants’ identities a year in advance of the statute of limitations expiration.
The rule against claim-splitting essentially holds that all complaints or injuries stemming from the same general set of facts must be contained within a single case. Generally, a plaintiff’s failure to include all defendants and allegations in claims arising out of the same factual transaction or occurrence in the same lawsuit results in a plaintiff’s forfeiture of the right to bring those claims in a separate lawsuit.
Often, this comes up in cases where there might be action involving the same two parties pending in both state and federal courts. In the Carpenter case, actions stemming from the exact same incident (involving the same plaintiff, but different defendants) were brought forth in the same court.
The Carpenter case involved a woman who tripped over some parking lot striping tape at a welcome center off an interstate in Mississippi. As a result of this, she fell to the pavement, suffering two broken wrists, as well as severe cuts and bruises to her face.
One year after the injury, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Mississippi Department of Transportation, including in her filing five “John Does” that she intended to name later upon further discovery. More than a year after that, she amended her complaint to include the construction company that built the welcome center, as well as the contractors. This request for amendment was granted.
Almost one year after that, she filed a second motion for leave to amend again, this time seeking to add the builders, masonry firm, lawn maintenance company and security contractor as defendants. Via interrogatory responses, the plaintiff had known of the existence of these potential defendants for a year at that point.
When she attempted to set a hearing on the matter prior to the end of the statute of limitations, it was indicated the parties could not agree to an acceptable hearing date until two months after that point.
So, her attorney filed a second lawsuit naming those defendants, and then subsequently filed various motions to consolidated the two cases. Those motions were never ruled upon. The defendants moved to dismiss both cases on the grounds of claim-splitting.
The motion to dismiss was granted, and then reversed by the appellate court, which was then reversed again by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Essentially, the second lawsuit violated a long-standing prohibition against claim-splitting.
The courts take this kind of duplicative action very seriously. This is a good example of why it is imperative to consult with an injury lawyer early on after the initial injury. This gives him or her ample time to research the claim and take appropriate and timely action.
If you have been injured in West Palm Beach, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Carpenter v. Kenneth Thompson Builder, Inc., Aug. 21, 2014, Mississippi Supreme Court
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