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PERSONAL INJURY: Appellate Courts hold that wrong-named defendant statute could not be used to circumvent prior judgment on merits

The plaintiff had been involved in a motor vehicle accident during which his vehicle was struck from behind.  The plaintiff commenced suit against the owner of the vehicle, alleging that the owner was the operator of the vehicle.  The defendant moved for summary judgment on the grounds that he was not operating the vehicle at the time of the collision.  After summary judgment was granted, a subsequent lawsuit was brought against the owner of the vehicle, basing liability on his ownership rather than operation of the vehicle.  The second lawsuit also named the owner’s son as the driver.

The owner and operator moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the two-year statute of limitations had expired.  The court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, noting that there had been no opposition to the summary judgment motion and the statute of limitations had expired.

The Connecticut wrong-named defendant statute provides in relevant part: “When a plaintiff in any civil action has failed to obtain judgment by reason of failure to name the right person as defendant therein, the plaintiff may bring a new action and the statute of limitations shall not be a bar thereto if service of process in the new action is made within one year after the termination of the original action.”

The plaintiff thereafter brought a third lawsuit against the driver only.  A motion for summary judgment was again filed based on the statute of limitations and the doctrine of res judicata.  The plaintiff raised the so-called wrong-named defendant statute for the first time in opposition to the third motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, the Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed, holding that the doctrine of res judicata barred the third lawsuit.  The court held that there had been a ruling on the merits in the second action and, therefore, res judicata prevented the plaintiff from relying upon the wrong-named defendant statute.

Hall v. Gulaid, 165 Conn.App. 857 (May 31, 2016)