A successful motion for a summary judgment can end a personal injury case before it ever really gets started—and it's a tool that both the plaintiff and the defense may try to employ. If you're involved in personal injury litigation, learn more about how a summary judgment might affect your case.
What is a motion for a summary judgment?
A motion is a formal request that's put before the court. Whichever side makes the motion for a summary judgment is asking the court to direct a verdict in their favor before it ever gets heard by a jury. Usually, the motion will point to the evidence on file and assert that there is enough there to give an undisputed verdict. It essentially argues that none of the facts alleged in the motion can reasonably be disputed, which means that there's nothing for a jury to decide.
How can a summary judgment affect your case?
Most of the time, when the plaintiff in a case makes the motion, it's about one or two major issues in the case. For example, in an auto accident case where one car rear-ended the other car, the plaintiff may ask the court for a summary judgment on the issue of liability (also known as fault). That leaves open other questions that have more potential variables, such as the extent of the plaintiff's injuries or the amount of pain and suffering that he or she endured.
When the defense makes the motion, they're more likely to ask the court to dismiss the whole case, usually based on something major—like the plaintiff's inability to prove that the defendant was actually liable for the plaintiff's injuries. For example, the makers of the antidepressant Zoloft were recently able to secure a summary judgment against 300 plaintiffs who claimed that the drug caused birth defects. The motion was won based on the plaintiff's inability to produce any expert testimony that could link the drug to the birth defects.
What else can be accomplished by a motion for a summary judgment?
Sometimes the motion for a summary judgment is really used as a legal tactic by one side or the other to get something important on record very early in a case. When the motion is filed, the court gives the opposing side a chance to state why they feel that the motion shouldn't be granted. That's going to oblige them to state their version of events to the court, under oath. That's a handy thing to have—it locks the other side into whatever scenario of events they allege at the time, unable to change it to fit any new evidence that comes along.
How can you defend against a motion for a summary judgment?
If you are on the receiving end of one of these motions, your attorney may argue that the facts of the case are still being developed and that you're still gathering evidence from police reports, hospitals, or witnesses. You may be able to ask the court to delay judgment until you have more time to gather more evidence and state your case. If it's early enough, the judge may agree.
Personal injury cases are often complicated processes with a lot of different steps. For more information on your case, talk to your personal injury attorney today.