One legal term that many have heard but few really understand is Summary Judgment.
It’s a common legal term and a tool for many a case. A recent ruling on one of my cases spurred me to think about how I could demystify what summary judgment means.
Hopefully, after you judge this little summary of mine, you’ll have a much firmer understanding.
That, in a nutshell, is the standard for summary judgment. But more on that later.
First, what exactly IS a summary judgment?
Summary judgment is a motion that is filed where the movant (usually, but not always, the defendant) in a lawsuit, says, “Hey Judge, after all these facts are taken in a way to be most beneficial to my opponent, there is still no genuine issue of material fact for a judge or jury to decide. Therefore, their case should be dismissed forever.”
It assumes all the claims were pleaded correctly but then says that the facts and the law cannot be massaged in a way that would make this a case to decide in the courts.
All the facts and law taken together in a way most favorable to the opponent of the motion (in this case, the plaintiff) leave nothing to decide and the case must be dismissed.
Conversely, as the opponent to such a motion, my job is to find something, anything, that is a fact that must be decided by a judge or jury. Anything – because all it takes is one! So we research the law, take depositions of interested witnesses, and argue our cases in motion, response, reply, and let the judge decide.
In my particular case, my client was walking through a parking garage when he struck his head on an exposed pipe protruding from the ceiling. The defense attorney filed his motion for summary judgment, in essence arguing that yes, my client was in the parking garage, yes my client struck his head on an exposed pipe. BUT even if those facts are true, he argued my client was trespassing and that his client (the parking garage and manager of the real estate) didn’t owe him a duty to not have a pipe sticking out.
Therefore, he argued, the case should be dismissed.
I responded by asking to take depositions of various garage personnel to delve into what they might have known about people cutting through the garage, the protruding pipe, and other facts. I was able to extract just enough information so that my reply to the motion guided the judge to see that there was at least some genuine issue of material fact for a trier of fact to decide. Was my client actually trespassing? Did the garage serve to protect or warn my client and others (even if they were trespassers) of the protruding pipe? Should the garage have been more aggressive to preclude people from cutting through the property?
This took some time. I had to find out the names of garage employees from my opposing counsel, ask for available dates to take their depositions, take the depositions, order the transcripts, and then drafting my response with all the notes. It took months just to accomplish those tasks.
I was confident I had a good response and that the motion should be denied.
My opponent filed the original motion for summary judgment back in the fall of 2019. Oftentimes, filing a motion for summary judgment is a stalling technique to delay the case. This worked better than usual because right when we were set for a ruling in March of 2020, everything shut down. The judge and his clerk were inundated with motions, working from home, and confusion reigned.
It wasn’t until (finally) in late December 2020 that I received the final word from the judge’s clerk that the motion was denied. My arguments had convinced the judge that the case should proceed.
The case had been delayed nearly a year and a half by this one summary judgment motion.
Now, I have to discuss with the other side what needs to be done to move the case toward either trial or a resolution. I assume he will need to take depositions of my client’s medical doctors who treated him for his injuries.
Welcome to another several months being used to delay justice!
The good news is the case is still alive. Had I not spent hours defending against the motion, my client’s case would be dead in the water with no hope of recovery.
The bad news is we have many more miles before we sleep.
Hopefully, someday I can blog about what happens in this case. For now, we soldier on.
As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, if you have been injured, immediately get medical treatment, report the incident to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars.
If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has nearly 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.
Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything upfront and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day, contact Stephen now.