When reading news articles about civil lawsuits (as opposed to criminal
cases), the term “summary judgment” is often used. Naturally,
most people without a legal background might not know what this means.
Today, we’ll explain summary judgment and how it is used in civil lawsuits.
When one side files a motion for
summary judgment, they are essentially arguing that the case does not need to go to trial
for two reasons. The first argument is that there is no genuine disagreement
about the facts of the case. In legal speak, you’ll often hear that
there are “no genuine issues of material fact.” The second
argument cites a law or laws that would automatically allow one side to
win based on the undisputed facts.
A motion for summary judgment can be filed by either the plaintiff or the
defendant prior to trial. If a judge grants summary judgment to the side
that filed the motion, the case is decided immediately and therefore won’t
go to trial. If the judge grants partial summary judgment, the case will
go to trial but with the specific issue at hand omitted.
The party that did not file the motion can present their own evidence to
convince the judge to deny summary judgment. If the motion is denied,
the case will then go to trial as originally planned. Typically, if the
arguments present a “close call” as to whether or not to grant
summary judgment, judges will deny the motion and send the case to trial
to be decided by a jury.
Hopefully, this brief explanation helps readers understand summary judgment
and how it can impact the course of a civil lawsuit.