Choosing the appropriate venue is one of a number of issues that a person injured in a car accident should consider in deciding whether to file a lawsuit. In Robbins v. General Motors de Mexico, the District Court for the Middle District of Florida explains the rules for suing different parties in different courts in actions resulting from one car accident.
Connie Robbins filed suit as personal representative of the estate of Alyssa Drazen, who died from injuries sustained in a single car accident when the Chevrolet Suburban she was driving went out of control, struck a fence and rolled over. Ms. Drazen was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, but the car's airbags did not deploy.
Defendant General Motors de Mexico (GM Mexico) manufactured the Suburban in Mexico before shipping it to Florida for sale. Robbins sued GM Mexico in federal district court in Florida, raising strict liability and negligence claims under the state's wrongful death statute. She also sued General Motors Corporation (GMC) and the car dealership where Drazen bought the Suburban in state court, raising virtually identical wrongful death claims as well as a breach of warranty claim against the dealership.
GM Mexico sought to dismiss the federal court action, alleging that Robbins engaged in impermissible "claim splitting" by filing identical claims against it and GMC in two different courts. In denying the motion, the court noted that "the rule against splitting causes of action makes it incumbent upon plaintiffs to raise all available claims involving the same circumstances in one action." Nevertheless, the court held that this rule does not apply to claims against different parties. "While Florida law may be silent on mutuality of parties, the federal claim splitting doctrine clearly requires identity of parties - and in particular identity of defendants," the court ruled, citing the Southern District of Florida's decision in Greene v. H & R Block Eastern Enterprises, Inc.
Because GM Mexico, GMC and the dealership are each separate and distinct entities, the court ruled that the prohibition on claim splitting did not apply in this case. Nevertheless, since the claims are virtually identical and arise out of the same accident, the court noted that issue preclusion - the legal principle that prevents a person from re-litigating an issue once a court decides on it - may eventually come into play.