Carter v. Hinkle

189 Va. 1, 52 S.E.2d 135 (Va 1949)

Plaintiff and Defendants were involved in an auto accident.  Plaintiff brought action against Defendants for the property damages that he suffered in the accident. After Plaintiff prevailed in that lawsuit, he brought another action against the same Defendants for his personal injuries.

Defendants moved to dismiss the second action, but the trial court denied that motion.

The issue presented on appeal was whether the subject accident gave rise to two separate causes of action — one for property damage and another for personal injuries.  The appellate court ruled in the affirmative.

The court followed the minority “primary rights” view under which property damages and personal injuries are two separate and distinct types of damages.  The court reasoned that the number of a plaintiff’s rights determine the number of causes of actions because a plaintiff usually acts not to punish a defendant but to preserve his own rights.

Under the majority view, all damages arising out of a single incident must be brought together as one cause of action.

Reference Desk

Kiser v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 285 Va. 12 (2013):

If the act itself is regarded as the ground of the action,” and thus cannot be “legally severable from its consequence, a single wrongful act may not give rise to two independent causes of action. See Shortt v. Hudson Supply & Equip. Co., 191 Va. 306, 310, 60 S.E.2d 900, 902 (1950) (A plaintiff injured in an automobile accident “had but a single claim—an indivisible cause of action for damages for his personal injuries arising out of the collision.”); Carter vHinkle, 189 Va1452 S.E.2d 135,136 (1949) (“[A]s a general rule a single cause of action cannot be split into several claims and separate actions maintained thereon.”).  The indivisible cause of action rule governs how many causes of action arise from a single wrongful act that violates a single right of a plaintiff; the rule applies to actions based on injury to the person regardless of how the person was injured.  “The number and variety of facts alleged do not establish more than one cause of action so long as their result is the violation of but one right by a single legal wrong.”

There is one notable exception to this rule: a single wrongful act may give rise to separate causes of action if that wrongful act violates distinct rights. In Carter, the injured plaintiff filed an action for personal injuries after earlier filing an action for property damage caused by an automobile accident. 189 Vaat 352 S.E.2d at 136. Recognizing the general rule, the Court nevertheless noted that “the history of the common law shows that the distinction between torts to the person and torts to property has always obtained.” Id. at 4652S.E.2d at 13637. The Court stated that two actions could be maintained when two distinct rights, the “right of personal security and the right of property,” were invaded by a single wrongful act: “ ‘If two separate and distinct primary rights could be invaded by one and the same wrong, or if the single primary right should be invaded by two distinct and separate legal wrongs, in either case two causes of action would exist.’ ” Id. at 6752 S.E.2d at 138.

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