If the judge grants summary judgment, he is usually deciding who is responsible for the accident. It happens before trial.
A court can grant judgment to either side if there is no dispute about the important facts, and if those facts require the court to grant the judgment.
The court can only grant summary judgment on liability. It usually cannot grant summary judgment on damages.
Most – but not all – motions for summary judgment are filed by the insurance company.
A fact is undisputed if at least one person testifies to it, and no one testifies differently.
Let’s say you get rearended by Joe Smith. You sue Joe Smith. Your lawyer gets an affidavit (a statement made under oath) from you, stating that you were at a stop when Joe Smith drove into your rear end.
Your lawyer files a motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability. The insurance lawyer argues that you could have backed your car into Joe Smith, but produces no affidavits or other proof that this actually happened.
The Judge will grant summary judgment in your favor, saying that you win the case, but that you still have to prove your damages. There was no dispute about any important fact, and you are entitled to judgment by the law.
Let’s take another example. This time you are walking in a grocery store, and you slip in a pool of green liquid on the floor. You’re hurt, and are taken away in an ambulance.
The store manager signs an affidavit saying that he had inspected that aisle a minute before you fell, and it was clean – meaning that the liquid got there before he could do anything about it, so it cannot be the store’s fault.
The insurance lawyer for the grocery store files a motion for summary judgment. But your lawyer contacts a lady listed as a witness on the store’s incident report, and she says she had seen the green liquid on the floor 20 minutes before you fell, and that she reported it to the manager personally.
Your lawyer gets the lady’s affidavit, and files it with the court.
In this case, the judge will deny the insurance lawyer’s motion for summary judgment, and set the case for trial.
Why won’t he grant the summary judgment in this case? Because there is a dispute about an important fact – when the manager learned about the green liquid – and the jury is allowed to believe the witness’s story. The jury can determine who is telling the truth at trial.
Insurance lawyers like to request summary judgment in cases involving falls; the argument is always that you are responsible for looking where you are going, and if you fell you probably were not looking. In fact, insurance lawyers like to file summary judgment motions in just about all cases except auto accidents, where the rules of the road are usually pretty clear and the other driver has a tough time arguing that it’s your fault.
The best thing about summary judgment motions is that when the judge rules against the insurance company, it knows it has to settle or go to trial. In most cases I have had involving a dispute about liability, the best offers came after I won a motion for summary judgment.
I have been a lawyer over 30 years. Before I file a lawsuit, I look up the law to determine if the defendant’s summary judgment motion will be successful. As I sit here today, I can only remember one instance in which I was wrong. If you have a personal injury case in Cincinnati, Ohio or if you want to know what your lawsuit is worth, talk with an experienced Cincinnati Injury Attorney about the case. Call me, William Strubbe, at 513-621-4775.
Because all situations are different, and because there may be other facts pertaining to your case that I don’t know about, you should not rely on this answer for legal advice. I am not your attorney, and no lawyer client relationship has been formed.