Massachusetts Court Explains the Doctrine of Claim Preclusion

Generally, companies that sell harmful goods can be held accountable for any injuries consumers sustain while using their products. It is well-established that parties only get one bite of the apple, however, which means they only get one shot to prove liability and recover compensation. Additionally, people deemed in privity of a party in a lawsuit are barred from pursuing the same damages at a later date via the doctrine of claim preclusion. Recently, a Massachusetts court discussed the elements of claim preclusion in a wrongful death case in which it upheld the judgment in favor of the plaintiff. If you lost a loved one due to a dangerous product, it is smart to speak to an experienced Massachusetts personal injury attorney to evaluate your potential claims.

The Plaintiff’s Claims

Reportedly, in 1998, the State Attorney General filed a lawsuit against the defendant, a cigarette manufacturer, alleging it engaged in a conspiracy to mislead consumers regarding the dangers of cigarette smoking. The claim was ultimately settled. In 2017, the plaintiff, whose husband died from smoking-related illnesses, filed a lawsuit against the defendant pursuant to the wrongful death act.

Allegedly, the plaintiff argued that the defendant’s actions caused her husband’s death, and she sought punitive damages. The case went to trial, and the jury found in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant appealed, arguing that the doctrine of claim preclusion barred the plaintiff’s claims.

The Doctrine of Claim Preclusion

The doctrine of claim preclusion makes a judgment that is final and valid conclusive on the parties and those in privity with them. It also prevents them from relitigating matters that either were or could have been adjudicated in a case.

The appellate court explained that the considerations of fairness and the need for the efficient administration of cases dictated that an opposing party in a matter is entitled to be free from efforts to relitigate the same claim. The appellate court elaborated that a party arguing claim preclusion applies must show that the parties were either the same in the prior and present action or in privity with said parties, the cause of action was the same, and a final judgment was issued on the merits in the previous case.

Here, the appellate court found that the defendant could not prove that claim preclusion applied, as the Attorney General’s claims for punitive damages in the prior case stemmed from the consumer protection act, while in the subject case, the plaintiff’s sought punitive damages under the wrongful death act. The appellate court, therefore, affirmed the judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

Meet with a Trusted Massachusetts Attorney

People who lose a loved one due to harm caused by an unsafe product may be able to recover substantial compensation via wrongful death claims, which in some instances may include punitive damages. If you lost a loved one because of a company’s carelessness, Attorney John S. Moffa of the Law Offices of John S. Moffa can advise you of your rights and aid you in pursuing the best legal outcome available under the facts of your case. You can contact Mr. Moffa via the online form or by calling 508-362-5554 to set up a meeting.

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