Courts often rely on motions for summary judgments to avoid the costly and time-consuming reality of going to trial and presenting a case in front of a jury. Motions for summary judgment are when one party asks the court to decide the case based on the current facts alleged in their favor. Courts should grant these motions when there are no facts in dispute for the jury to resolve. But how much evidence does a party have to present to survive one of these motions? A case out of New Orleans shows that, in some cases, just having medical records could be enough to deny a motion for summary judgment.
Emmanuel Bridgewater was lounging on a median at the intersection of Washington Avenue and South Dorgenois Street when a Regional Transit Authority (RTA) bus made a left-hand turn off of Toledano street and an immediate right turn onto Washington Avenue. The bus cut the corner too closely and drove onto the median, hitting Bridgewater. As a result of the accident, Bridgewater’s right arm broke, his right leg was injured, and he said that the accident left him permanently disabled. Bridgewater alleged that the bus did not stop after he was hit and instead fled the scene. A bystander who did not witness the accident heard Bridgewater calling for help and called 911 emergency services. An ambulance and New Orleans Police Officer Roger Smith arrived at the scene. Bridgewater alleged that Smith did not question him about the accident before he was taken to the hospital.
Bridgewater filed a lawsuit against the RTA and the City of New Orleans and added the Transit Management of Southeast Louisiana, Inc. (TMSL) as a defendant. Bridgewater accused the defendants of being jointly liable for his injuries and argued that the NOPD officer assigned to the RTA acted to protect the RTA from liability. Bridgewater also asserted that the City was at fault because it failed to place signs in the accident area to warn pedestrians that buses may run onto the median and hit them. The City filed for summary judgment, and the court granted the City’s motion. Next, Bridgewater filed a motion for rehearing, contesting the court’s decision. Then, RTA also filed a motion for summary judgment, and the judge denied Bridgewater’s rehearing and granted RTA’s motion. Bridgewater eventually appealed, and RTA responded, seeking attorney fees and costs against Bridgewater for filing a frivolous claim, which means that the lawsuit lacked any basis.
Summary judgment under La. C.C.P. art. 966 will apply if there is no genuine issue of fact presented in the evidence that the jury would have to decide. The appeals court explained that the evidence should be viewed favorably to the non-moving party. When determining whether to grant a motion for summary judgment, the judge is not supposed to evaluate the evidence or find out the truth; instead, the judge just has to determine whether a genuine issue of fact where a reasonable person can disagree exists. If the judge finds a genuine issue of fact, then summary judgment will be denied, and the case will proceed to a jury.
Upon review, the appeals court agreed that the City’s motion for summary judgment should have been granted because the City did not have control over the RTA bus. The appeals court further held the NOPD Officer at the scene prepared a satisfactory report based on the information he was given at the scene, and the City was not required to place signs near the median to warn pedestrians of buses. Those facts allowed the City to escape liability for Bridgewaters claims.
However, the court determined that RTA’s motion for summary judgment should not have been granted. The lower court justified its decision to grant the motion by citing a previous Louisiana Supreme Court opinion which determined that summary judgment is appropriate when the plaintiff only provides conclusory statements and leaves contradictory physical evidence uncontested. Jones v. Estate of Santiago.
In this case, the RTA presented expert testimony that supported the conclusion that it would have been impossible for Bridgewater to have been hit by a bus, and he did not offer any expert testimony to argue the opposite. However, the court said this should not hurt Bridgewater’s claim because his medical records from the day of the accident contradicted the RTA’s evidence.
The appeals court reasoned the fact that Bridgewater had medical records that contradicted RTA’s expert testimony was enough to create a genuine issue of fact. Further, this genuine issue of fact should have prohibited the lower court from granting RTA’s motion for summary judgment. The appeals court overruled the trial court’s decision dismissing the case against the RTA. Therefore, the case was sent back to the trial court for further proceedings.
Bridgewaters lawsuit against the RTA was allowed to continue on to another day. If not for his attorney, Bridgewater may have seen the end of his lawsuit before it got off the ground. It is important to remember that an experienced personal injury lawyer will ensure your case survives such perilous motions.
Additional Sources: EMANUEL BRIDGEWATER VERSUS NEW ORLEANS REGIONALmTRANSIT AUTHORITY, ET AL.
Written by Berniard Law Firm
Other Berniard Law Firm Articles on Expert Testimony and Medical Records: Medical Malpractice Case Dismissal Affirmed for Lack of Expert Testimony in Split Decision