Summary judgment is a mechanism used when one party clearly deserves to win the case based on either issues of fact or law. That is, the parties agree to facts and those facts point to a clear winner of the case when the correct laws are applied. Summary judgment helps cases move quickly through the judicial process because an actual trial is not necessary. However, where there are issues of factual disputes or the evidence is unclear, summary judgment cannot be used to conclude the case.
Often, both sides will move for summary judgment because any grant of summary judgment will conclude the case and avoid a full trial. A case appealed from Lafayette, Louisiana, explains when summary judgment is appropriate. The court explains that the burden of proof is on the party moving for summary judgment. However, that burden adjusts depending on who would be the party needing to prove the burden at actual trial. As a general notion, the burden is usually on the party who is claiming the error. For example, if you are injured in a car accident, then you must prove that the other party was at fault in order to recover. If the mover would not have had the burden at trial, then the threshold to grant summary judgment is much lower. Instead of proving that there is no way the other side could win, the party without the burden could prove that the other party does not have enough facts, evidence, or there is some other fatal flaw with their argument.
In that case, the plaintiff was in a car accident that caused him serious back injuries. His back injuries resulted in surgery and completely inhibited his ability to work. In fact, the plaintiff was a lawyer who previously had his own law practice, but the law practice closed after his accident because he could not continue due to his injuries. The lawyer had two disability policies that covered him should he become disabled and unable to continue working. These polices both had partial options that would award partial benefits if the individual could continue working, but not at full capacity. Since the lawyer had to quit his law practice, he argued that he should be awarded full disability payments.
Both sides argued for summary judgment. The lawyer argued for summary judgment based on the notion that he should be paid the full amount of disability and his payments should have occurred much sooner than they did. The insurance company, on the other hand, argued that summary judgment for their side was appropriate because the lawyer did not deserve full disability and they could not have given payments any sooner because the lawyer did not furnish them with all of the information they needed to begin making payments.
The disability payments depended a great deal on past income. The payments were adjusted to portions of income depending on whether the individual was awarded full or partial disability. As such, the insurance carriers required the lawyer to submit previous tax returns as proof of income. The insurance company requested the plaintiff’s 1999 tax return, but did not receive it until 2005. Instead, the plaintiff furnished the insurance company with his tax returns from 1997 and 1998. Since the accident occurred in 1998 and the payments were to be based on the previous year’s earnings, the plaintiff assumed that the insurance company would want previous year’s tax returns.
While the insurance company was waiting on the 1999 tax return, the insurance company made two payments to the plaintiff. However, the insurance company alleges that they did not pay in full because they did not have the 1999 tax return. The court noticed this inconsistency. The court explained that the plaintiff was obviously entitled to some benefit since the insurance company paid him, but the question was whether the payments were correct and timely. Since the facts did not line up with the testimony, the court determined that neither side should be awarded summary judgment. Accordingly, the case will go to trial and the court will determine the case on the merits, instead of just as a matter of law.
Summary judgment is a valuable tool when used properly. It avoids the time and money involved in a complete trial and allows the winning party to obtain the same result that they likely would have at trial. It functions as a legal short cut. The Berniard Law firm can help determine if your case is appropriate for summary judgment. In addition, we can also take your case to trial if needed.
Call 1-866-574-8005 today and we will be happy to discuss your case.