What Is a Summary Judgment?

February 5, 2021

A legal motion is a written request that asks the court to make a decision about a case. During a personal injury lawsuit, both the injured plaintiff and the at-fault defendant have the right to file motions concerning their case, such as a motion to move the trial to another date or to dismiss the case if the statute of limitations passes. One type of motion is a summary judgment, which asks a judge to resolve a case before it enters trial.

Proving a Personal Injury Claim in California

To understand how summary judgments work in personal injury claims, it is important to understand how to prove these lawsuits. All personal injury claims in California must involve a negligent act or omission.

To prove a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove four key facts.

  • The at-fault party owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
  • The at-fault party breached his or her duty of care to the plaintiff through a negligent act or failure to act.
  • The at-fault party’s breach of duty directly caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the defendant’s actions that he or she can claim compensation for.

When Do Courts Grant Summary Judgments?

When a person files a personal injury lawsuit, the claim will proceed to trial if the plaintiff and the defendant dispute the facts of the case and cannot reach a settlement prior to their court date. If the facts are indisputable, either party may file a motion for a summary judgment.

This motion asks the judge presiding over the case to make a decision before the case goes to trial. Whoever files the motion must prove two facts for the court to grant a summary judgment.

  • There are no material facts that the plaintiff or defendant could reasonably dispute.
  • In light of the undisputed facts, the plaintiff has the right to claim compensation for his or her damages.

After one party files a motion for a summary judgment, the other party must respond within a certain timeframe. The other party can choose to challenge or accept the motion, depending on the facts of the case.

How to Prove a Summary Judgment

For a court to grant a summary judgment, the party that filed the motion—or the movant—must prove that indisputable evidence is available that establishes these facts, negating the need for a trial. There are many pieces of evidence a movant may use to prove his or her claim, including photographs, surveillance footage, and police reports.

For example, say that a plaintiff suffers injuries in a car accident after the defendant runs a red light. The defendant disagrees that he breached his duty to operate his vehicle safely and follow all traffic laws. However, the plaintiff and her attorney have surveillance footage showing the defendant running through the red light and colliding with her vehicle.

Since running a red light is a breach of the defendant’s duty, the plaintiff can file a motion for a summary judgment and provide the court with this surveillance tape as evidence of indisputable facts. She can also provide copies of her police report and medical records, establishing the cause and extent of her injuries and damages. Based on this evidence, the court will decide whether a trial is necessary.

If you are filing a personal injury lawsuit, it is very important to have a personal injury lawyer on your side. Your attorney can gather evidence necessary to prove your right to compensation and file motions when he or she believes it is appropriate for your case. Contact a California injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.