Here’s a common situation faced by many Minnesota motorists:

You are involved in a collision with another driver and it is the other driver’s fault.  Your vehicle suffers property damage, and you also begin treating with a chiropractor for your injuries.  You attempt to negotiate a property damage settlement with the other driver’s insurance company, but they are “low balling” you with their offer.  You decide to pursue your property damage claim in conciliation (“small claims”) court to get the insurance company to pay you the “fair value” of your damage.  The judge hears your case and agrees with you. The other driver’s company sends you a check.

A number of months go by and your chiropractor tells you that it looks like some of your injuries are going to be permanent.  You decide to pursue a personal injury claim against the other driver and their insurer.  You are now surprised to learn that they are not going to negotiate with you for your injuries because of some fancy legal doctrines called “res judicata” and/or “collateral estoppel.”  You wonder what just happened?

The common term for this is “claim splitting”.  What most people don’t realize is that these legal doctrines prohibit a person from splitting separate claims (property damage and personal injury) arising out of the same accident into separate lawsuits.  When you innocently went into court on your property damage claim, you split that claim from your personal injury claim.  As a result, you may now be prevented from legally pursuing your personal injury claim.

There are a number of factors that a court looks at when deciding whether or not to allow the personal injury claim to go forward in that situation.  These were discussed in a recent case we argued before the Minnesota Supreme Court in the case of Michelle Kern v. Janson, et. al. (http://caselaw.findlaw.com/mn-supreme-court/1574861.html).  The bottom line, however, is that any person’s attempt to bring two separate lawsuits arising out of the same accident, is done so at their own peril.  We always recommend you consult with a competent attorney before taking any legal action.  Be careful not to fall into this dangerous trap for the unwary.