Summary Judgment and its Significant Impact in the Judicial System

Is it possible for your case to be over even before it begins? Yes … well, sort of. Through what is known as summary judgment, it is possible for a court to render a decision in favor of one party and against another before there is a trial on the issue. You may be wondering, “What is the point of this?” and “Isn’t it only fair that I get my day in court?” Essentially, the purpose of summary judgment is to avoid unnecessary trials and litigation. It is important to note that although orders for summary judgment are common in civil cases, they do not apply in criminal cases because a criminal defendant has a constitutional right to jury trial.

According to a report researched by the Federal Judicial Center, 26% of all plaintiffs file motions for summary judgment, whereas defendants file 71% of all summary judgment motions. A judge may also on his or her own determine that summary judgment is appropriate. Nonetheless, orders granting summary judgment for defendants can have detrimental effects on plaintiffs who have sustained injuries, financial hardships, and who may have even lost a loved one. The adversity associated with orders of summary judgment can be shown in a recent case out of Jefferson Parish. Favre v. Boh Bros. Construction Co., L.L.C.

In Louisiana, summary judgment is appropriate if the declarations under oath, depositions, admissions of fact, and legal authorities show that there is no genuine issue as to a material fact and the party requesting the order is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. A fact is considered to be a material fact if it is needed to prove one party’s case, or establishes a point that is crucial to a party’s position and success. Also, a genuine issue is an issue where two reasonable parties disagree. So, for example, if two parties could reach only one conclusion as to the dispute, then there is no need for a trial and summary judgment is appropriate.

In Favre v. Boh Bros. Construction Co., L.L.C., Mr. Favre sustained severe injuries after crashing into a guardrail that had been previously damaged by an accident earlier in the day. After the first crash, the Boh Bros. Project Safety Manager for the I-10/Causeway Boulevard construction project inspected the area and noticed that the damaged guardrail was missing a reflective diamond, but failed to replace it. Later that day, Mr. Favre was traveling in the area on his motorcycle and ran into the same guardrail that had been damaged; as a result, Mr. Favre incurred injuries requiring skin grafts and surgery to his leg. Mr. Favre filed a claim for damages and alleged, among other things that Boh Bros. and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development breached their duties in failing to replace the guardrail.

The trial court concluded, in this case, that both Boh Bros. and the LA DOTD were entitled to summary judgment. Mr. Favre appealed this decision and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals considered whether summary judgment was appropriate. The Court ultimately decided that there were genuine issues of material fact and reversed the trial court’s conclusion that both Boh Bros. and the LA DOTD were entitled to summary judgment. Specifically, the Court cited to the facts in the deposition and the traffic crash report of the trooper who was called to the accident. Further, the Court reasoned that two persons could disagree as to whether the exposed metal rail, without a reflective diamond attached, posed an unreasonable risk to Mr. Favre as a motorist traveling on the interstate.

Mr. Favre was fortunate enough to have representation that was competent and advocated his theory of the case. Ultimately, he was able to overcome the trial court’s decision that would have ended the litigation and in turn, changed his life. Because summary judgment motions are so common, it is essential to have legal representation that is familiar with both the procedural matters and the arguments that must be made to survive these motions. With so much on the line, it is important for your attorney to present compelling and well-developed arguments in your favor. The lawyers at the Berniard Law Firm have substantial experience in responding to motions for summary judgment. Therefore, we will fight for your interests and are well equipped and ready to make sure that you see your day in court.