Injury Case Shows the Ultimate Impact Summary Judgment Can Make

In a typical case, either party can move for summary judgment. The defendant can move for summary judgment after the plaintiff files the complaint. The plaintiff can move for summary judgment after the defendant has answered the plaintiff’s complaint.

Summary judgment is a common procedural occurrence within civil and criminal trials. The purpose of summary judgment is “to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination” of actions. A party is granted summary judgment when there is no genuine issue of material fact. In other words, a party is granted summary judgment if the court finds that no reasonable jury would ever find in favor of the non-movant (the party that is not moving for summary judgment) based upon the facts in the record. When it is beyond a reasonable doubt that the movant is entitled to summary judgment, summary judgment is granted and the case never reaches a jury. However, if there is even the slightest chance that a jury could find for the non-movant, summary judgment is not granted and litigation continues until a jury determines who should win the case.

In this particular case, Ricky Whittington Jr., was rear-ended by an eighteen-wheel tractor trailer rig in the Parish of Rapides on June 2, 2009. He sustained extensive injuries from this accident and had to go through back surgery as a result. Mr. Whittington filed suit against the operator of the eighteen-wheel tractor, the operator’s employer, and the employer’s insurer, QBE Specialty Insurance Company (“QBE”). In addition, he also named General Insurance Company of America (“GICA”) as the fourth defendant. The issue on appeal is whether the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the fourth defendant, GICA.

The only reason that Mr. Whittington added GICA as the fourth defendant was because he was worried that QBE and its insureds would attempt to shift the fault for Mr. Whittington’s medical injuries onto GICA. Mr. Whittington feared that he would be left with no compensation for his injuries if he did not name GICA as a defendant as well. He decided to play it safe just in case the court found that QBE was not at fault, finding instead that GICA was responsible for his injuries. Mr. Whittington was merely exercising caution when he named GICA as the fourth defendant.

The reason Mr. Whittington feared QBE would attempt to shift the blame onto GICA was because one of GICA’s insureds hit Mr. Whittington’s dump truck in a previous accident on April 16, 2009. Following this accident, Mr. Whittington scheduled a doctor’s visit, in which his doctor indicated that Mr. Whittington’s backache and leg pain from the accident were getting better. However, the primary reason for Mr. Whittington’s visit to the doctor that week was not related to the injuries he received from the accident; it was due to a totally unrelated reason, relating to his high sugar level.

After GICA moved for summary judgment, Mr. Whittington stated with emphasis, “Plaintiff RICKEY WHITTINGTON, JR., has no Opposition to the motion [of GICA] on its merits.” He also stated that he was “perfectly content” for GICA “to be dismissed from this case.”

Since GICA could show that Mr. Whittington did not think that he sustained injuries from the first accident, GICA moved for summary judgment. GICA based this belief off of Mr. Whittington’s petition which stated that he “[did] not believe” the April accident “caused or contributed to any of the injuries” he sustained in the June accident; and he “[did] not believe” the April accident “caused or contributed to any condition of his body which was aggravated or exacerbated by the June 2, [2009] accident.”

Because Mr. Whittington himself alleged no causes of action against the fourth defendant, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of GICA. This case will now proceed without GICA as a defendant. Because no jury would find against GICA, (because Mr. Whittington is not alleging that any of his injuries were from the earlier accident), the grant of summary judgment in favor of GICA was appropriate.