Summary judgment occurs anytime a court makes a ruling on a case or part of a case without a full trial. A motion for summary judgment is simply a formal request by one of the parties to a lawsuit asking the judge to make a summary judgment ruling. Summary judgment rulings should only occur when there is no dispute in facts and the decision is clear and obvious. A summary judgment ruling can eliminate the need for a trial or can speed up a trial and reduce expenses by ruling on part of the case.
Why File a Summary Judgment Motion?
Any party can file a summary judgment motion and although a judge can issue summary judgment without either party filing a motion, judges rarely do so. Summary judgment was established to avoid unnecessary trials. If the evidence makes a trial unnecessary, a judge will use summary judgment to save the time and expense of a trial. Summary judgment can also simplify a trial by addressing certain issues or claims. For example, in some car accident cases where liability is clear, a summary judgment ruling will eliminate the need to prove liability at trial and the trial will only determine the amount of damages.
How is a Motion for Summary Judgment Different from a Motion to Dismiss?
A motion to dismiss is typically filed immediately after the start of a case. It may contain facts of the case, but it usually occurs before the exchange of evidence or depositions. A motion to dismiss typically argues that the case should not be heard because of a procedural issue – filed outside the statute of limitations or in the wrong jurisdiction – or because the case is so obvious that it is not worthy of a trial.
A summary judgment motion usually occurs after some or all evidence and depositions have been exchanged. It asks the judge to look at the evidence and make a ruling on the entire case or some aspect of a case that the evidence makes plain. In New York, if one side makes a motion for summary judgment, the judge almost always will allow the other side of a case to file rebuttal papers. Some judges will hold oral argument on a motion for summary judgment.
Sample Summary Judgments in New York Personal Injury Cases
As a plaintiff attorney, I will file a summary judgment motion for many reasons, including to move a case faster, to minimize expenses or to gain a tactical advantage at trial. The defense in personal injury cases will file summary judgment motions for similar reasons. Here are some examples of summary judgment motions that I have filed or encountered recently:
In a case where my client was hit in the rear while stopped at a stop sign, I filed and won a summary judgment motion to find the defendant 100 percent liable for the accident. New York State law assumes that a driver who strikes a car from the rear bears responsibility for the accident unless he or she can document unusual circumstances. In this case, the defendant did not present any evidence or clam that unusual circumstances caused or contributed to the accident. The judge found the defendant 100 percent liable and this enabled us to speed up the Discovery phase of the trial and to move the case onto the trial calendar sooner. At trial, the only issue to be presented will be damages.
I have made it a practice to file for summary judgment in all rear end motor vehicle cases and I have found success with this approach.
In a case where my client was crossing a Manhattan Street with the light in a crosswalk and a taxi hit her, I have filed a summary judgment motion to ask the court to hold the driver 100 percent liable for the incident.
New York motor vehicle cases all involve New York’s No Fault law that requires plaintiffs to meet the definition of a serious injury (also known as the serious injury threshold). I can ask a judge to issue a summary judgment that a case meets the serious injury threshold.
Auto insurance companies often file summary judgment motions asking judges to declare that a case does not meet the serious injury threshold. Judges are increasingly ruling in defendants’ favor on these motions. The courts are tightening their rulings on the serious injury threshold.
In construction cases involving a ladder or scaffold, the law says that the owner and general contractor are responsible for injuries during construction or renovation when the injuries are caused by an elevation risk on a ladder or scaffold. I have filed summary judgment motions asking the judge to rule that the labor law on ladders and scaffolds applies.
I hope you found this information helpful. If you or a loved one has been hurt through the negligence of another, you may want to consult an experienced New York personal injury attorney. I would be glad to answer your questions and assist you. The consultation is free. You can call me at 1-800-660-1466 or email me. You can also visit my website or read more on my blog, New York Law Thoughts.
This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney. Remember, past results do not guarantee future outcomes.
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