Suing for Property Damage in Small Claims Court

If my vehicle has been damaged in an automobile accident in Utah, can I sue in small claims court for the damage to my vehicle and then hire a personal injury attorney to sue for my injuries at a later date?  Before April 1, 2013, if you sued to recover damage to your vehicle and did not include your claim for your injuries in that lawsuit, you lost your right to sue for your personal injuries.  In Allen v. Moyer, 259 P.3d 1049 (Utah 2011), the Utah Supreme Court held that because a car accident gave rise to only one cause of action, a person who sued in small claims court to recover for damages to his vehicle was precluded from filing a separate lawsuit to recover damages for his personal injuries.  Allen v. Moyer involved a car crash that occurred in 2008.  Two weeks after the crash, the injured person sued in small claims court to recover damages for the property damage done to his car.  He obtained a $4,831.50 judgment for property damage.  About 6 months after the small claims judgment was paid, the injured person sued in district court for his personal injuries.  The Defendant’s insurer filed a summary judgment motion arguing claim preclusion.  The Utah Supreme Court agreed and dismissed the injured person’s personal injury claim.

Apparently in response to the Allen v. Moyer decision, the legislature amended Utah Code § 78A-8-102 to now allow an injured person to file a claim for his property damage in small claims court without jeopardizing his right to sue for personal injuries later.  This statute states, in relevant part:    “(5) Claims involving property damage to a motor vehicle may be maintained in small claims actions, and any removal or appeal thereof, without limiting the ability of a plaintiff to make a claim for bodily injury against the same defendant in a separate legal action.  In the event that property damage claim is brought as a small claims action:  (a) any liability decision in an original small claims action or appeal thereof is not binding in any separate legal action for bodily injury; and (b) no additional property damage claims can be brought in any separate legal action for bodily injury.”

Before filing a lawsuit in small claims court to recover for the damage to your vehicle caused in an automobile accident, you should consult with a personal injury lawyer to make certain that you understand your legal rights and that you are fairly and adequately compensated for your injuries.

Truman Law Firm, Your St. George and Las Vegas Personal Injury Lawyer