Summary Judgment in Virginia Personal Injury Cases

Thousands of personal injury cases are filed each year across the State of Virginia. While many of these cases have merit, the reality is that some do not. To help deal with this reality, and to alleviate the burden on the court system, courts have enacted a strict set of procedures to help ensure that only meritorious cases make it in front of a jury. Perhaps the most common of these procedures is a motion for summary judgment.

Wet StairsIn Virginia, summary judgment is a way for one party to obtain judgment in their favor very early in the process. Essentially, if summary judgment is appropriate, the judge will enter judgment in favor of that party, and the case is over without the need to submit the case to a jury and engage in additional fact-finding. However, summary judgment is only proper when there “is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.”

The burden rests with the moving party, meaning the party that is asking the court for judgment in its favor. This party must establish that – taking the evidence on its face and without assessing credibility – they are entitled to judgment in their favor. If conflicting evidence exists, or a credibility determination must be made between competing sources, summary judgment is not appropriate. A recent case illustrates each party’s burdens in a summary judgment motion filed by the defense in a personal injury case.

Lowrey v. LMPS & LMPJ, Inc.

Lowrey was injured when she slipped on some icy steps while leaving the defendant’s bar. Lowrey filed a premises liability lawsuit against the bar, claiming that it was negligent in maintaining the premises or failing to warn patrons about the dangerous condition on the steps. One of the elements of Lowrey’s claim was that the bar knew or should have known that the dangerous condition existed. The defendant filed a summary judgment motion, which was granted by the trial court.

Lowrey appealed to the intermediate appellate court and was successful in getting the outcome reversed. That court held that the defendant failed to present any evidence showing that it was unaware of the dangerous condition. The defendant appealed to the state’s highest court.

On its final appeal, the case was reversed yet again. The state’s highest court determined that the intermediate appellate court wrongly shifted the burden onto the defendant. The court explained that the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that there is an issue of material fact. In filing a motion for summary judgment, the defense argued that the plaintiff failed to establish an element of her case, namely that the defendant had knowledge of the dangerous condition. Thus, the court held that the intermediate appellate court requiring the defendant to provide evidence to the contrary, when no affirmative evidence was presented by the plaintiff, was an improper shifting of the burden, and summary judgment was appropriate.

Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Slip-and-Fall Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Virginia slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. However, this area of the law can become exceedingly complex, as shown by the discussion above. Even seemingly straightforward matters can quickly become intellectual quagmires when defense attorneys and insurance companies get involved. The personal injury attorneys at Charles B. Roberts & Associates have decades of experience navigating the complex area of Virginia personal injury law and know what it takes to bring a strong case for their clients. Call 703-491-7070 to set up a free consultation with an attorney to discuss your case today.

See More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff’s Bad-Faith Insurance Claim Allowed to Proceed after Dismissal Is Reversed on Appeal, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, December 7, 2016.

Government Immunity in Virginia Personal Injury Lawsuits, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, December 1, 2016.