Judicial estoppel argument fails when positions aren't clearly inconsistent
Case name: Cozart v. Target Corp., et al., No. 07-5772 PSG (SHx) (C.D. Cal. 09/19/08).
What it means:
The doctrine of judicial estoppel prevents a party from taking a position in a case which is contrary to a position she has taken in earlier legal proceedings. The positions she asserts must be "clearly inconsistent" -- a claimant's allegation that her injuries prevented her from returning to work as a carpenter or welder is not clearly inconsistent with her claim that she was totally unable to work for a closed period.
The District Court rejected the employer's attempt to stop the claimant from asserting a lost earnings claim based on her successful settlement of previous workers' compensation claims. In 1997, the claimant settled a workers' compensation claim against her then employer for injuries she sustained to her legs and neck. The settlement covered closed periods in 1994 and 1995 when she could not work because of her injuries.
In a 1998 addendum to the settlement documents, the claimant acknowledged that due to her medical limitations, she could not return to work for that employer. In 2004, the claimant settled another workers' compensation claim with a different employer, related to wrist and elbow injuries she sustained while working as a carpenter/welder. The parties disagreed over the nature and extent of the claimant's disability, but resolved the dispute with a permanent disability rating of 36 percent.
In 2005, the claimant argued that she suffered a loss of earnings because she could no longer work in construction as a result of injuries she sustained at Target. Target contended that she should be judicially estopped from asserting a claim for lost earnings because she was already found to be permanently disabled in the previous workers' compensation cases.
The District Court found that the claimant's position was not clearly inconsistent with the position she took in the most recent workers' compensation proceeding. It concluded that the claimant's past claim that she suffered permanent injuries should not bar her "from making any personal injury claims involving lost earnings for the rest of her life."
January 8, 2009
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