Many pedestrian accident lawyers consider the motion for summary judgment as a mechanism Defendants use to dispose of claims without trial, or at least to pare down the issues for a jury. However, Plaintiffs should also use the mechanism as a way to foreclose on certain defenses asserted by the defense.
As is well known, summary judgment can be granted if the moving party shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact, entitling the movant to judgment as a matter of law. This is reduced to rule in state and federal procedural law, including Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Many outside of the legal industry don’t realize that in civil cases, a jury decides all issues of fact if a jury demand has been made. If there are no genuine issues of material fact, then it only follows that the case could be disposed of as a matter of law, either in favor of the movant or against.
Summary judgment as to certain defenses
In practice, a motion for summary judgment is seldom utilized by the Plaintiff. There are many scenarios in which this is a mistake, both for trial strategy and for purposes of judicial economy. For instance, in many frequent types of personal injury cases, the defense will assert that the Plaintiff contributed to his or her own injuries. By way of example, the Defendant may assert that the Plaintiff was speeding when the car collision occurred. They may assert that a Plaintiff who slipped and fell on a banana in a grocery store was texting while walking through the store and not paying attention to potential dangers in his or her path. However, the Plaintiff should flesh these defenses out in discovery. What evidence do they have to support their defense? Is there video? Are there witnesses? If not, is this defense merely devised with no support whatsoever? If so, a motion for summary judgment may be necessary to keep the defense from trying to muddy the water in front of the jury for purposes of liability. Moreover, these types of defenses routinely allow the defense to add a line to relevant jury instructions to provide for the jury to assign percentages of fault when there may be no evidence whatsoever that the Plaintiff contributed to his or her injuries.
Therefore, a motion for summary judgment should be utilized to streamline issues for the Plaintiff as well as the defense. For these reasons, it is imperative to hire a veteran trial lawyer who has experience in filing pre-trial procedural motions to put Plaintiffs in the best position possible in front of a jury.