Q: Does res judicata and/or collateral estoppel apply to a small claims judgment?

If a plaintiff succeeds in small claims court and receives a judgment, can the loser (defendant) later file a lawsuit in King County Superior Court over the same matter? This involves an auto accident in which each party blames the other. The matter was heard in King County District (Small Claims) Court and the judge ruled for the plaintiff. Now the plaintiff is the defendant in a Superior Court lawsuit for bodily injury claims from the same accident.

Two possibly applicable cases: Landry vs Luscher and State Farm Auto Ins vs Avery.

Any assistance would be appreciated.

1 Lawyer Answer
Tim Akpinar
Tim Akpinar
  • Personal Injury Lawyer
  • Little Neck, NY

A: This is something a Washington attorney should advise on, as it involves state court practices. But your question remains open for three weeks. As a GENERAL matter, it's unlikely that a suit would be filed against you if the matter stems from the same claim/controversy and involves the same issue(s). The concepts you raise are addressed in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as issue preclusion and claim preclusion. There's nothing to stop someone from bringing an action - no one can predict what a party would do. But AS A GENERAL PREMISE under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (and state practice too), if the court were to determine that the subsequent action involved claims involving the same parties from the same common nucleus of operative fact and that the issues were already decided (e.g. there was negligence, there was not negligence, etc.), a court would be likely to dismiss such an action based on the doctrines of claim preclusion or issue preclusion. I do not practice in Washington. This is a GENERAL commentary and that is how federal practice (and state practice generally) works. A Washington State attorney could give you the most meaningful insight here. Good luck

Tim Akpinar

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