Identifying the Wrong Defendant in Civil Suit Can Lead to Lost Opportunity

The civil justice system has a few bare minimum requirements that must be met before a party can be successful in any given litigation. In order for a party to be successful in a civil action, that party’s case must make sense to the court in terms of the party accused, injury presented, etc. Initiating action against the correct defendant seems like it would be a given, however that is not always the case. Ms. Charise Thomas was injured in a particular location, eventually suing the owner of the location, Mr. Antonio Harris, due to the incident. Ms. Thomas also sued that man’s father, Mr. Aaron Harris. Unfortunately for Ms. Thomas, she did not initiate action against the estate of one Mr. Thirkield J. Smith, the owner of the property on the date of her accident.

The trial court granted Aaron Harris a peremptory exception of prescription and Antonio Harrris a summary judgment. These two different types of relief are granted for different reasons, having similar results but different standards of review on appeal. Each requires different elements in order to be granted to the moving party. In this case, they were also both upheld by the appellate court.

An exception of prescription is granted by a trial court when a certain time period has elapsed between the incident giving rise to a particular suit and the filing of that suit. Since Ms. Thomas never ended up filing against the appropriate party, Aaron Harris’ peremptory exception of prescription was granted and upheld on appeal. The trial court’s decision is given a fairly high amount of deference on appeal and is reviewed under the manifest error standard. If the trial court is found not to have abused its discretion, its decision will not be overturned.

Time restrictions, such as an exception of prescription, dispose of a case just as completely as a summary judgment. The standard of review is different because the timing restrictions are fact-based and the trial court is in the best position to collect the relevant facts surrounding them. In the present case, the appellate court found no error had been committed by the trial court: the appropriate party had not been brought into this case during the time period allotted by statute. Antonio Harris was not the appropriate party given that he did not own the location at the time of Ms. Thomas’ alleged accident.

Summary judgment is granted to a party when there are no genuine issues of material facts. Because they provide resolution of a case without reaching its merits, summary judgments are reviewed de novo on appeal. The appellate court gets to look at everything the trial court could have looked at and make a decision regarding the granting of the party’s motion. In this case, the defendant did not own the property where this alleged incident took place on the date in question and was enough to convince the trial court that summary judgment was appropriate. The appellate court agreed with the findings of the trial court and summary judgment was upheld.

Summary judgments are reviewed de novo because they present questions of law. Appellate courts do not sit as fact finders but seek to make sure that the law was applied correctly. When a party is granted a summary judgment, the trial court has determined that there are no genuine issues of material fact, meaning that the trial court is not even reaching the merits of a particular case. Summary judgments effectively end the litigation before the merits of the case are even presented to a finder of fact and prevents future litigation of that issue, an important reason why summary judgments are reviewed de novo on appeal. A successful motion for summary judgment prevents the case from ever being litigated on the merits. As a result, appellate courts have a great amount of discretion in determining whether or not a summary judgment has been applied correctly.

If you want to make sure an effective attorney presents your case to the court, call the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005 today.

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