Motion For Summary Judgement – When The Defendant Asks The Judge to Dismiss Your Case
Just like in a criminal case, everyone knows that ultimately, it’s up to a jury to decide your personal injury claim. That’s the crown jewel of our legal system: letting a jury of our peers decide if we’re right or wrong. But before this happens, the judge must decide if the parties to the litigation have met their “threshold” by presenting enough evidence to even warrant assembling a jury in the first place.
You see, the legal system doesn’t want to waste a jury’s time by submitting baseless, frivolous claims to them. Further, if there’s no or very little evidence that the plaintiff suffered any harm from the defendant’s conduct, why bother 12 potential jurors with the case?
To prevent this from happening, if they believe the other party lacks sufficient evidence to successfully proceed, either party can file a “motion for summary judgment” and ask the court to rule that the case doesn’t need to go to the jury. For every harm the plaintiff alleges (“claims”) or each argument the defendant wants to allege (“defenses”), they must offer evidence. When they don’t, the judge can toss out their claims entirely. Almost always, however, it’s the defendant asking the judge to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims.
Questions Answered on This Page:
- What exactly is a motion for summary judgement?
- How does a motion for summary judgement work in Texas?
It’s your lawyer’s job to go get the evidence you need.
As we discuss throughout these “explaining the basics” pages, lawsuits are not won on mere allegations, but on evidence. Defendants in personal injury cases often file what’s termed a no-evidence motion for summary judgment, which attacks your claims for supposedly lacking any evidence.
These motions are intended to clean out a court’s schedule of any claims that cannot prove that there’s a reason for the jury to rule in their favor. The plaintiff must then show, through the record of evidence already developed by the parties, that there is in fact some evidence that his claims are right.
Without getting too thick into the weeds on this, there must be evidence to corroborate each and every element of your claim. Laws and common law causes of action have elements. “Elements” are like ingredients in food—if you don’t have jelly in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it’s not a PB&J. In order to keep a judge from throwing your case out for lack of evidence, your attorney will need to be able to point to actual evidence for each element. For example, in a negligence case, you must be able to show that:
- The defendant owed you a duty. In a premises liability case, for example, this can be shown by pointing the court to deposition testimony by the defendant building owner in which he admitted that he was aware of his responsibility to provide a safe store for you to walk in and shop. Further, your lawyer’s citing previous decisions (called case law) in which courts established that property owners owe a general duty of providing a safe environment can help.
- The defendant breached that duty. Your attorney should be able to cite some evidence—deposition testimony, photographic evidence, a police report—that the defendant screwed up. In a car accident case, for example, if you claim that you remember seeing the defendant swerve improperly into your lane, this would be helpful in demonstrating that he breached the duty he owed to you as a fellow driver.
- The accident itself caused your injuries. It’s not enough to show that you’re hurt. Your attorney will need to be able to cite some evidence that the injuries you received came from the accident. This can be accomplished through medical affidavits from your doctors.
You must be alleging a “legally viable” claim.
This may strike you as obvious. You don’t have to be some great legal expert to guess that no court of law will hear a case about friends who are upset with each other over sports or politics. But situations arise where courts have to grapple with whether the law even allows you to file a lawsuit, even if you have what might seem to be a valid claim.
A simple example: legislatures and courts change the law, and what new law means is often open to interpretation. When this happens, courts have to examine what the new law even means. Lawyers often make a sport out of arguing over words in laws, disputing (always for their client’s advantage) whether, say, “employee” also means “intern” in a workplace protection law. Courts then ask a court to step in and make a decision. So, your attorney might be faced with a defendant not disputing that something bad happened to you, but whether there’s even a valid cause of action you can sue under.
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Regardless, your attorney will need to be more than good in the courtroom. He’ll need to work for months before your case even gets close to trial securing the evidence and researching the law to keep your case from getting tossed out entirely. Don’t risk your case, whatever the amounts at stake, on an attorney without the track record of holding negligent parties accountable. Call Grossman Law Offices today at (855) 326-0000.
Other articles about personal injury cases that may be helpful: