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Written by:  Ashley Smith Lant

The Court of Appeals of Kentucky recently articulated the meaning of "series of occurrences" under CR 20.01. In Hughes v. Lawrence-Hightchew, the Court of Appeals vacated an Order that dismissed an action based on misjoinder. Hughes v. Lawrence-Hightchew, 2012-CA-002140-MR, 2013 WL 6710196, at *2 (Ky. Ct. App. Dec. 20, 2013).[1] In Hughes, the Plaintiff was involved in two automobile accidents-one in mid-October of 2010 and another in mid-December of the same year. Id. at *1. Thereafter, in mid-October 2012, Plaintiff filed one suit related to both accidents. Id. A group of the Defendants then moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, to sever. Id. In response, it was argued that "misjoinder was not a basis for dismissal and that in the interest of judicial economy and fairness to the parties, the claims ought not be severed before discovery was complete." Id. Notwithstanding, the trial court completely dismissed the action. Id.

The Court of Appeals instructs that the lower court had discretion to sever the action if there was a misjoinder, but misjoinder is not a basis for an outright dismissal which is plainly stated in CR 21. Id. at *1-2. The Court further explained that:

In cases such as this, the two discrete accidents are viewed as a "series of occurrences" as described in CR 20.01. The "series" does not require that the events be related to a common cause. Instead, the provisions of the rule are read to require that the series of occurrences be related by a common question of fact or law. As [Defendant, an uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier,] aptly contended below, the requirement is readily satisfied in this case by the common factual questions as to the nature, cause, and extent of Hughes's injuries . . . .


In addition, as has been observed, "were permissive joinder to be prohibited in cases of aggravated, successive injuries, separate trials would afford each defendant the opportunity to impute the bulk of liability to the other tortfeasor(s)." Additionally, "[j]oining the defendants ... increases the ability of the jury accurately to apportion damages and liability." Nevertheless, the trial court remains empowered by our rules of civil procedure to order separate trials on separate claims depending upon the circumstances or to enter orders to avoid delay or prejudice that might result from the joinder of claims.

Id. at *2 (internal citations omitted) (emphasis added). Here, the Court of Appeals makes it clear that the most important inquiry regarding the meaning of "series of occurrences" when considering joinder is whether the occurrences, here the two separate accidents, are related by a common question of law or fact.

[1] Final citation form not available at the time of publication.

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