Washington Appeals Court Finds for Plaintiff, Reverses Summary Judgment in Car Accident Case

In a recently published decision, the Washington Court of Appeals reviewed a case involving a plaintiff’s personal injury claim and the effect of his failure to amend his Chapter 13 bankruptcy schedules to include the claim. In Arp v. Riley (Wash. Ct. App. Dec. 28, 2015), the superior court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment against the plaintiff on the basis of judicial estoppel. On appeal, the Washington court ultimately reversed and remanded that decision, allowing the plaintiff to proceed with his claim.

The Arp plaintiff had filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in 2008. After he paid off his Chapter 13 debt, the bankruptcy court closed his case in 2012. In October 2010, however, the plaintiff sustained serious injuries when an SUV rear-ended his stopped car. He suffered physical injuries as well as mental and emotional problems, including periodic memory loss. The plaintiff filed a personal injury action against the driver and the company for which the driver was working at the time. The defendants subsequently moved for summary judgment, contending that the plaintiff was barred from bringing his claim by judicial estoppel, since he did not report the claim to the bankruptcy trustee, and that he lacked standing. The trial court agreed, finding that the plaintiff’s personal injury claim is considered an asset of the bankruptcy estate, and the plaintiff had a duty to disclose the claim as such in his bankruptcy action.

In Washington, judicial estoppel precludes a party from asserting one position in a court proceeding and later seeking an advantage by taking a clearly inconsistent position in another proceeding. It is intended to protect the integrity of the courts but is not necessarily designed to protect litigants. To determine whether judicial estoppel applies, the court must determine (1) if the party asserted a position inconsistent with an earlier one, (2) if the acceptance of the position would create the perception that a party misled a court in either proceeding, and (3) if the party asserting the inconsistent position would derive an unfair advantage or impose an unfair detriment. In addition, the court may consider other facts depending on the context of the case.

After analyzing the relevant case law, the court explained that while the nondisclosure of a claim later brought in state court may support a contention that the party has asserted two different positions, it does not automatically result in estoppel of a future case. Upon its review of the case, the appeals court found that the record did not establish the elements of judicial estoppel, nor that the trial court exercised individualized discretion in concluding that allowing the plaintiff to pursue his claim would be an affront to the judicial process. As a result, the appeals court reversed the summary judgment and remanded the matter back to the trial court.

Consulting with a knowledgeable attorney after a car accident or other injury can be beneficial in determining your legal options, including whether to file suit against a negligent party. The personal injury attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC provide comprehensive guidance and legal representation to accident victims in Washington, as well as individuals with criminal and family law cases. To discuss your case with one of our skilled attorneys, contact our office at (206) 622-6562 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Washington Appeals Court Examines Jury Award in Car Accident Case, Affirms Judge’s Grant of Additur, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published September 25, 2015

Washington Court Reviews Expert Testimony of Industry Custom in Premises Liability Case, Seattle Attorneys Blog, published October 21, 2015

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