U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Allows Do-Over for Lawyer Who Sued Wrong Party

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A lawyer for a plaintiff who slipped and fell on a cruise ship will be allowed to amend the pleadings to name the proper defendant since the cruise line operator should have been aware of the misunderstanding, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the unanimous opinion (PDF) in Krupski v. Costa Crociere. The proper inquiry, she said, was whether the proper defendant knew or should have known it was the intended party, but for the plaintiff’s mistake.

The lawyer for plaintiff Wanda Krupski had sued Costa Cruise Lines, the sales and marketing agent, instead of Costa Crociere, the vessel operator and the proper party. Both companies were represented by the same counsel.

During oral arguments, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had pointed out that the cruise line operator “conveniently” waited until the statute of limitations had expired before notifying the lawyer for the passenger that he had sued the wrong party.

The federal rules allow amendment of the pleadings when an improperly named defendant has constructive notice of a lawsuit and the defendant “knew or should have known that the action would have been brought against it, but for a mistake concerning the proper party’s identity.”

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had dismissed the suit. The appeals court found that the information on the proper party was contained in the passenger ticket, and the plaintiff’s lawyer should have known Costa Crociere was the proper party.

Sotomayor wrote that the appeals court used the wrong analysis. “By focusing on Krupski’s knowledge, the court of appeals chose the wrong starting point,” she said. The proper question is “whether Costa Crociere knew or should have known that it would have been named as a defendant but for an error.”

Krupski was one of four opinions issued today by the U.S. Supreme Court, three of them in argued cases, SCOTUSblog reports. None of the opinions appeared on a list of blockbuster cases remaining on the docket highlighted today by USA Today.

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