What is a Motion for Summary Judgment?

Posted: August 3, 2022

gavel on a bookIn a lawsuit arising from a motor vehicle accident, both parties can file “motions” asking the court to make various legal rulings with respect to the case. Let’s explore, in general, what it means when a party asks the judge to grant summary judgment in a New York motor vehicle accident case.   

What Are The Roles of Judges and Juries?

To understand the motion for summary judgment, we should first recognize a few general points with respect to most trials. First, judges typically decide matters of law. This may include, among other things, interpretations of laws or deciding what laws are relevant in a given case. It may also include deciding whether certain proof is “admissible” evidence such that it can be presented to the factfinder, which can be a judge or jury depending on the case. Juries, on the other hand, typically decide matters of fact. They weigh the evidence presented by both parties and decide what witnesses are credible, such that their account of events should be accepted.  

In other words, while a judge may determine the applicable law, juries apply that law to the facts at trial. What if the evidence is such that there is no need for a jury to decide factual issues? This is where a summary judgment motion can come into play.  

Motions for Summary Judgment

Generally speaking, when a party brings a motion for summary judgment that party asks the judge to decide an issue as a matter of law, without the need for any factfinding. Under New York procedural law, “… if, upon all the papers and proof submitted, the cause of action or defense shall be established sufficiently to warrant the court as a matter of law in directing judgment in favor of any party. Except as provided in subdivision (c) of this rule the motion shall be denied if any party shall show facts sufficient to require a trial of any issue of fact.” 

Summary judgment is a form of “accelerated judgment.” A judge can grant summary judgment to the moving party (the party filing the motion) if the party submits evidence establishing entitlement to judgment as a matter of law and evidence submitted in opposition would not allow a reasonable juror to find for the non-moving party. This generally means that summary judgment can be granted only if the evidence demonstrates that there is no genuine factual dispute between the parties on a relevant issue.  

Importantly, “partial” summary judgment can be granted, meaning that the court can grant summary judgment on one issue, and leave other issues for determination by the factfinder.  

Motion for Summary Judgment in a Car Accident Case

Let’s say, for example, that a lawsuit arises because someone was injured by a driver who rear-ended the preceding vehicle, injuring someone in that vehicle.  The only evidence is that the driver was looking at a cellphone in the moments before impact. Unless the driver can somehow come forward with admissible evidence of a non-negligent explanation for the rear-end collision, the judge would likely grant the injured person’s motion for summary judgment.  

This would mean that, should the case proceed to trial, there would be no need for the factfinder to decide whether the driver was negligent because that determination was already made as a matter of law.  

Were You Injured in a Car Crash?

If you were injured in a car accident, an experienced personal injury attorney at William Mattar, P.C. can explain in greater detail how a motion for summary judgment can affect your case. Our attorneys have the knowledge and experience to help those seriously injured after a car accident.   Contact us 24/7 by calling (844) 444-4444 or by submitting a contact form online.

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