Outline of a Lawsuit – Part 20 – Filing a Motion for Summary Judgement on the issue of “Liability” (or”Fault”)

A Motion for Summary Judgment is like having a trial on paper.  When all of the discovery is complete, i.e., the sharing of facts, evidence, documents, as well as the testimony of the litigants at a deposition (i.e., the injured party, the negligent party, etc) we are then ready to ask the Court to determine what facts are undisputed.  We need to make an application (e.g., a Motion) to the judge which asks that a judgment be made on specific factual issues.

In the case of many of my clients, I am prepared to make such a motion on the questions of liability (i.e., who is at fault) and damages (how did my client suffer physically, emotionally, and financially).

Let’s use the example of a car accident in which my client is stopped at a red light when the defendant careens into my client’s car.  Because the Vehicle and Traffic Laws of New York State state that cars must travel at safe speed and be able to bring there vehicles to a stop (“keeping a safe distance), I would be able to make a valid argument to the judge that the defendant is 100% responsible for the accident.  If the judge agrees, he or she will decide in favor of my client and order a “Summary Judgement”.

Logistically (and procedurally) you must review the transcripts of the depositions of all witnesses in the case.  Each page and line must in favor of your argument must be cited in your application.  You need to highlight each portion of testimony that supports your claim that the defendant was at fault in the accident and that your client (the plaintiff) was not at fault.

Citing case law which favor your legal argument is essential to making a successful argument to a judge.  The Appellate Division where your case is pending frequently change their positions and viewpoints on matter involving automobile cases. You should utilize the strongest cases (e.g., ones which reflect similar fact patterns) and most recent cases.  Citing the Court of Appeals is ideal (and certainly attracts the attention of judges).

Also, you must be prepared to make your strongest arguments on the date that you appear before the judge.  We call this “Oral Argument” and preparedness may be enough for a lawyer to have his or her case decided in their favor.

If you win “Summary Judgement,” this has the effect of applying 9% statutory interest on whatever your final judgment is.  Additionally, it can provide an opportunity to discuss settlement with an insurance company (because 9% interest can be a substantial amount of money by the time we reach the a jury verdict and award).

In the next blog, I will discuss a “Motion for Summary Judgement” on the issue of “damages.”