The following situation illustrates a common occurrence in Nebraska: X suffers personal injuries and his car is damaged as a result of an automobile accident. The first question is whether X has one, or more than one, cause of action. If the cause of action is single, then a judgment on the property damage claim is a bar to a later action for the personal injury and vice versa. This is so because the rule against splitting a single cause of action makes the judgment in the first proceedings res judicata in the second. A second question arises if the insurer reimburses X for his property damage loss and thereafter sues as subrogee. Does a judgment in an action by an insurer for property damage prevent a subsequent action by the assured against the wrongdoer for personal injuries? It appears the Nebraska Supreme Court will be confronted with the problem of deciding whether to allow two actions for a single motor vehicle accident, or to allow only one action and bar the second action by applying the doctrine of res judicata. The majority rule, allowing only one cause of action, might logically be adopted because two of the main reasons for adopting the minority rule are absent in this state. First, the Nebraska statutes of limitations covering property damage claims and personal injury claims are identical, and second, both actions survive the death of the injured party. The minority rule, however, would separate the rules of law applicable to personal injuries and those relating to property damage, thereby reducing the confusion their differences create in the minds of the jury. This may result in jury verdicts that more nearly approximate a plaintiff's actual damages.
John Ilich Jr.,
Res Judicata—Personal Injury and Vehicle Property Damage Arising from a Single Accident,
40 Neb. L. Rev. 545
Available at: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/nlr/vol40/iss3/12