During the course of litigation, one of the tools used by lawyers and the legal system to weed out weak cases is to file for summary judgment. The basic premise of summary judgment is to call the other side to provide solid evidence of their claim. The moving party, the party filing the summary judgment, tells the adverse side that they need to demonstrate to the judge that they can actually prove all the elements required to win the case. This does not mean that they need to show that they can win the case, it just means that they need to show that all the evidence they have acquired at least allows them to bring forth a feasible case on all necessary elements of their claim or defense. If the adverse party is unable to factually prove the elements of their claim, the Court grants smmary judgment by stating that their is “no genuine issue as to material fact.”
In Christine Comeaux vs Debbie Lemmons, the State of Louisiana Court of Appeal, Third Circuit, worked its way through the law of summary judgment to decide whether summary judgment was properly granted at the trial court level. The plaintiff was an employee of Giddy-Up-N-GO Lounge (Lounge) in Rayne, LA. After her shift, she remained at her place of work as a patron. During the course of the time she was there, another patron fell into plaintiff causing her to fall and break her leg. She sued the Lounge stating that the Lounge (1) Failed to monitor the consumption of its patrons (2) allowed patrons to dance in inappropriate conditions (3) encouraged reckless behavior (4) allowed the number of patrons to exceed maximum capacity and (5) failed to do and see all things necessary to ensure her saftey during her time as a patron.
During her deposition, plaintiff clearly stated that she was unsure and unaware of whether the patron who fell into her was intoxicated. Further, she admitted that she did not know whether the Lounge was beyond full capacity during the incident that broke her leg. Furthermore, she stated that although there were times when people receieved DWIs after leaving the Lounge, she had no facts to support her proposition that the Lounge was acting irresponsibly on the day of the accident. Her claim, that the Lounge was responsible for the actions of its drunk patrons, falls under the civil law of “dram shop liability.” States that adhere to this type of liabilty state different conditions in which those who provide alcohol, either at parties, or for sale, can be held liable for the actions of those who become drunk from the alcohol. In Louisiana, the statute La.Rs.9:2800.1 speaks to the legislatures view on dram shop liability. The statute states that liability for actions that cause damage or injury will be on those who do the drinking, not on those that provide alcohol, if the person receiving the alcohol is of legal age to consume it.
Summary judgment is granted if pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affadavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact, and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Further, La.Code.Civ.P.art 966(C)(2) states that the burden remains on the moving party. However, if the moving party is not responsible for the burden of proof at trial, all the movant has to do is show that there is factual support lacking for one or more of the adverse party’s essential elements. If after this is shown, the adverse party fails to bring forth evidence that provides the needed factual support, there is no genuine issue as to material fact, and summary judgment should be granted. In this case, during her deposition, plaintiff negated her own pleadings. She stated that she did not know whether the patron who fell into her was actually drunk, that she did not know whether the number of patrons were beyond maximum capacity, and that she did not know whether any person was allowed to go home by driving drunk. In either case, the law as it stands concerning dram shop liability exposes on the person who does the drinking to liability. After defendant brought forth the motion for summary judgment, plaintiff was unable to fulfill her burden on providing facts to show that all elements could at least be proven. Therefore, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the trial court.
It is essential that if you have a claim, or your think you have a claim, you should seek the advice of legal counsel as soon as possible so that time does not run out on your ability to take any kind of action on your claim.
If you think you have a claim, or you have been injured in any way, contact the Berniard Law firm at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help.