Timeliness Due to Lawyer Mistake Essential in Court Ruling

It is common knowledge that most courts have more cases than they can handle today. Many parties experience long waits between court dates in most courts. This is one of the many reasons that timeliness in the courtroom is so important. The following case arising from the Sixth Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Carroll, Louisiana, displays the importance of timeliness.

A Plaintiff was involved in a one car accident in March of 2008. She hit a large pot hole and lost control of her vehicle. She sued the makers of the road resurfacing machine and Carroll Parish Police Jury. She claimed that the machine that resurfaced the road was faulty and that the Carroll Parish Police Jury should have had the road fixed so as to avoid accidents.

The Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment asks the court to dismiss the case because there are no facts in dispute and those facts can only lead to one conclusion. The Defendants argued that since the pothole was open and obvious, a possible mechanism to avoid liability because the Plaintiff should have seen the pothole, then the Defendants should not be liable. In addition, Defendants pointed out that those who maintain roads and sidewalks are not required to have completely uniform surfaces that are entirely free from potholes or cracks because such a requirement would be an impossible feat.

Plaintiff countered these arguments with claims such as that the road should have sealant on it and that rain that was in the pothole made the road slippery and therefore dangerous. However, Plaintiff was not allowed to bring any of these arguments because they untimely filed their resistance to the motion for summary judgment. Originally, the Court gave Plaintiff a 45 day extension on top of the 45 days that she had already received. In fact, since the case was already significantly behind, the parties had roughly seven months to prepare for the hearing, but the Plaintiff was still not ready. The Court graciously stated that Plaintiff should have their motion filed by a specific date. However, Plaintiff filed approximately six days later than the required date.

Generally, parties are required to submit their memorandums and supporting exhibits eight days prior to the hearing for summary judgment. However, since this Court had granted an extension, the date that the required documents were to be submitted fell before the eight days that is normally required. The Court, using their discretion in the administration of justice, can set deadlines that are before the eight day requirement, and in this case, the Court had. The eight day rule is more of a minimum than a solid rule for all circumstances. Unfortunately, this attorney overlooked the deadline and used the eight day deadline instead.

Since the arguments were late, the judge did not accept them and the motion for summary judgment for the Plaintiff went through without much contest. Normally, one party will file a motion for summary judgment and the other side will oppose it with their evidence and arguments. However, if the opposing side does not have evidence and arguments, then the summary judgment is nearly always automatically granted to the moving party, the party that made the motion. Since Plaintiff did not get their arguments in on time, the Court acted as if those arguments did not exist, and therefore the Court did not consider them.

On appeal, Plaintiff argued that their case should not be dismissed because that was too harsh of a sanction for the woman who suffered the injury due to her lawyer’s error. Plaintiffs pointed out that Court Rule 9.9(b) states that the Court may “forfeit the privilege of oral argument” and “the court may order the late-filing party to pay the opposing side’s costs” caused by the untimely filing. However, the court of appeals concluded that the word “may” suggests that these remedies are only recommendations and are not a limitation. The court of appeals concluded that the lower court did not abuse their discretion by dismissing the case.

Therefore, Plaintiff’s lawyer ultimately cost the Plaintiff her case. The discovery process can be long and time consuming, but it is your lawyer’s job to work hard for you to meet the deadlines that the Court provides.

If you have a legal question, let The Berniard Law Firm work hard for you. Call 504-527-6225 today.