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Case Law Update: Res Judicata in Strict Product Liability

Piagentini v. Ford Motor Company, No. 1-04-3800, (1-15-09) found that the plaintiff who filed complaint alleging negligent design and strict product liability against vehicle manufacturer, who took voluntary dismissal of her complaint after trial court granted partial summary judgment striking allegations of each count alleging vehicle was subject to rollover; but preserving defective seatbelt allegations of each count, dismissed complaint and allowed plaintiff to file new count with only seatbelt allegations, could voluntary dismiss amended complaint and re-file within a year thereof without committing claim splitting. Because there was no final dismissal of either negligence or strict liability claims; but only certain allegations within those claims, res judicata does not apply to bar re-filing. Further, by failing to move to dismiss on grounds of res judicata when plaintiff filed new complaint and participating in litigation for three years before raising it defendant committed acquiescence; an exception to defense of claim splitting. This decision will impact Illinois lawyers trying strict product liability.