News & Insights

Attorneys Aaron Ashcraft And John C. Webb Prevailed On A Res Judicata Argument, Obtaining Summary Judgment In A Workers’ Compensation Case

Attorneys Aaron Ashcraft and John C. Webb recently obtained summary judgment in a workers’ compensation action pending in Bessemer Alabama. The summary judgment asserted a novel res judicata argument, and was based on the proposition that a Plaintiff cannot recover benefits after previously asserting, and settling, a claim for permanent total disability benefits against the same employer.

The unique procedural history of the case was the key to the argument, as the Plaintiff, after sustaining bilateral shoulder injuries in his employment in 1997, asserted a claim for permanent total disability benefits in 1998. This claim was settled in 1999, for an amount over the maximum recovery for a permanent partial impairment. The settlement documents specifically indicated that the Plaintiff was permanently disabled from returning to his previous job with the employer. The 1998 lawsuit made no mention of any respiratory impairment, and the settlement was based exclusively on the bilateral shoulder injury.

A class action lawsuit for a respiratory impairment, filed in 2000, in which the Plaintiff was ostensibly a member, was decertified in 2012, and the Plaintiff asserted a second workers’ compensation claim in the Circuit Court of Bessemer, Alabama, asserting he was permanently and totally disabled as a result of a breathing impairment.

We filed a summary judgment on the 2012 claim based on res judicata. The first three elements of res judicata were undisputed, i.e. a prior judgment on the merits, in a court of competent jurisdiction with substantial identity of the parties. Ultimately, the Court agreed that the fourth element, the same cause of action presented in both actions, was met, and found the claim was barred by res judicata. Despite the claimed injuries being different, the Court found that, under Ala. Code § 25-5-57(a)(4)(f), a Plaintiff is limited to one award for permanent total disability benefits, and the Plaintiff has already sought those benefits in the 1998 claim.