A Capehart Scatchard Blog

Entire Controversy Doctrine Does Not Bar Subsequent Products Liability Suit

By on April 24, 2014 in Blog with 0 Comments

Plaintiff Shaun Armstrong was injured while on a Disney cruise. He fell from his wheelchair while on a ramp leaving the ship, struck the hot deck, and suffered burns and fractured both femurs. At the time, he was operating a wheelchair manufactured by Pride Mobility Products (“Pride”). He filed a negligence lawsuit in federal court in Florida against Walt Disney Company and other cruise related companies. About 3 months after filing the lawsuit, he settled with these defendants and dismissed that suit. The issue on this appeal was whether he was now barred from suing the manufacturer of the wheelchair in a subsequent NJ lawsuit.

About one year after settling with the Disney defendants, the plaintiff filed a second lawsuit in New Jersey, Armstrong v. Monmouth Equipment & Service Co.,  2014 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 776  (App.Div. 2014), against Pride and other entities involved in the sale of the wheelchair. The plaintiff disclosed in discovery that there was a settlement reached in the Florida lawsuit. After receiving a copy of the Florida complaint and settlement agreement, Pride filed a motion to dismiss the complaint based upon the entire controversy doctrine.

The trial court judge granted Pride’s motion, finding that plaintiff knew that Pride was the manufacturer and should have named Pride in that first suit. However, the Appellate Division reached a different result.

The entire controversy doctrine requires a party to litigate all aspects of a controversy in one legal proceeding. However, while all claims arising from the same matter must be joined in the same lawsuit or be precluded if filed in a later lawsuit, this doctrine requires only mandatory joinder of claims, not parties. Claims against a subsequent party in a successive action, not a party to the first lawsuit, will only be barred in special situations involving inexcusable conduct and substantial prejudice to the non-party resulting from omission from the first suit.

Here, the Appellate Division found that there was no calculated claim splitting. The suit in Florida was based upon the condition of the ramp and the deck. The New Jersey suit was a products liability suit based upon the design of the wheelchair. There was no extended discovery in the Florida suit and, thus, Pride was not prejudiced. Further, even though the ramp had been replaced, the ship’s specifications should be available to establish the design of the ramp and the composition of the deck, to the extent they were relevant to the Pride suit.

Accordingly, the NJ appeals court found that Pride was not substantially prejudiced by not being included in the first lawsuit. Thus, the court ordered that the plaintiff could proceed with its lawsuit and reinstated the complaint. 


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About the Author

About the Author:

Ms. Ramos is an Executive Committee Member and Co-Chair of the Litigation Department at Capehart Scatchard, P.A. located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey. She is an experienced litigator with over 30 years experience handling diverse matters. Practice areas include tort defense, business litigation, estate litigation, tort claims and civil rights defense, construction litigation, insurance coverage, employment litigation, shareholder disputes, and general litigation.

For the years 2020-2023, Ms. Ramos was selected for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America© in the practice area of Litigation - Insurance. The attorneys on this list are selected based upon the consensus opinion of leading lawyers about the professional abilities of their colleagues within the same geographical area and legal practice area. A complete description of The Best Lawyers in America© methodology can be viewed via their website at: https://www.bestlawyers.com/methodology.

In 2021, Capehart Scatchard and Ms. Ramos received the “Best Law Firm” ranking in the area of Litigation – Insurance (Metro, Tier 3) published by U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers®. Law firms included on the list are recognized for professional excellence with consistently impressive ratings from clients and peers. To be eligible for a ranking, a firm must have at least one attorney who has been included in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America, which recognizes the top five percent of practicing lawyers in the United States. Betsy Ramos (Litigation – Insurance) was recognized for this prestigious award in the 2021 edition. For a description of the “Best Law Firm” selection methodology please visit: https://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/methodology.aspx.

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