During the course of a lawsuit, there are many opportunities for litigants to attempt to end a case early, without proceeding to trial. A defendant may move to dismiss a case at the early stages, arguing that the plaintiff has not alleged any real violation of the law. Later, after depositions are taken and evidence is exchanged, either party may move for summary judgment in a case, arguing that their position is so clearly the correct one that the court should go ahead and find for them at that time. When parties move for summary judgment, they must show that there are no genuine disputes over the material facts in a case, such that a court can rule on it without the case proceeding to trial. If different stories or disputes exist, a jury must be allowed to considered these different facts and weigh the evidence for itself. A recent case before the Court of Appeals in Georgia illustrates these summary judgment considerations.
This summary judgment arose out of an accident that occurred in 2011. The defendant, E.R., owned and operated a tractor trailer. Since he frequently needed access to the tractor trailer, he parked it in front of his house, along the street. Given the size of the tractor trailer, it partially obscured traffic on the road. The plaintiff, A.N., was driving down the road in front of E.R.’s house one morning when he was temporarily blinded by sunlight coming through his windshield. Although he slowed down, his vehicle still ran into E.R.’s tractor trailer, which he could not see at the time. A.N. was hurt in the accident and transported to the hospital. A.N. eventually sued E.R. for his injures, arguing that E.R. was negligent in parking his large tractor trailer outside his house, where vehicles on the road could run into it. During the course of discovery, the parties learned that a prior vehicle had run into E.R.’s tractor trailer under similar circumstances just a year prior to A.N.’s accident. The parties also factually disputed the extent to which E.R.’s trailer actually protruded into the roadway. E.R. argued that it was not a violation of any local laws, and he was not obscuring traffic, while A.N. noted that the police report from the accident and photographs from the scene clearly showed that the tractor trailer significantly obstructed the road. After the close of discovery, E.R. moved for summary judgment, arguing that he had exercised ordinary care and was not in violation of any duty to A.N. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment for E.R. A.N. appealed.
On appeal, the court noted two significant factual disputes that the lower court had overlooked. First, it was debatable whether E.R. had breached his duty of care because it was unclear about the extent to which E.R.’s vehicle obscured the roadway. The trial court held that based on the competing descriptions of E.R.’s tractor trailer, this was an issue that the jury was entitled to resolve. Secondly, the court also held that there were genuine issues of material fact as to whether E.R. had failed to exercise ordinary care when he continued to park his tractor trailer in the roadway even after he was on notice that another individual had already run into the tractor trailer while trying to drive down the street. The appeals court held that while this did not conclusively establish a failure to exercise ordinary care, it raised questions that were for a jury to consider. In light of these two factual disputes, the appeals court held that the case should not have been resolved on summary judgment and reversed the lower court’s decision so that the jury could more fully consider the issues raised by the parties.
Summary judgment can be a powerful tool for any litigant. It can help to minimize litigation expenses while still reaching the outcome that you want, as long as you have the evidence to prove your case. If you decide to move for summary judgment, you must be prepared to show that there are no genuine issues of material fact within the evidence, and you are on the winning side of the law. Stephen M. Ozcomert is an Atlanta car accident attorney with over two decades of experience handling car and truck accident litigation from the motion to dismiss stage to summary judgment and at trial. He represents individuals who have been involved or injured in accidents in Atlanta and throughout Georgia. Call us today at (404) 370-1000 to schedule a free initial consultation, or you can reach us through our website.
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