The Summary Judgment Standard in Washington, D.C. Personal Injury Cases

The Washington, D.C. judicial system is designed to handle all of the disputes arising in the District and, at times, can get fairly backed up. In particular, cases that end up going to trial take up a lot of a court’s resources. For this reason, courts implement certain rules to ensure that only meritorious cases end up going to trial. The most common method by which cases get weeded out prior to trial is through summary judgment.

GravelSummary judgment is a phase of the trial process in which a judge is asked by one party to enter judgment in favor of that party before the case gets presented to a jury. In Washington, D.C., in order for a judge to properly grant a party’s motion for summary judgement, the judge must determine that “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”

Importantly, all reasonable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-moving party. This means that if a defendant moves for summary judgment, all matters of witness credibility and other potential unresolved inferences must be made in favor of the plaintiff. In other words, if the judge assumes everything the plaintiff claims is true, and the plaintiff is still not entitled to judgment, summary judgment in favor of the defendant should be granted. A recent premises liability case illustrates how summary judgment may be used by a defendant to get a case dismissed at an early stage.

Piotrowski v. Menard:  The Facts

Piotrowski was injured outside the defendant’s home improvement store when she slipped and fell on some loose stones in the parking lot. Piotrowski didn’t know where the stones came from, but she explained that there was a planter belonging to the defendant near the site of her fall, filled with river rocks.

Piotrowski claimed that the stones on which she slipped came from that planter, and the defendant store owner was negligent in creating the dangerous hazard or was negligent in failing to keep the parking lot free of dangerous hazards. The defendant acknowledged that the rocks were placed in the planter by store employees, but it also explained that sometimes children would play in the planter, and rocks would get tracked out of the planter as a result.

The court determined that the defendant was entitled to summary judgment. Specifically, the court noted that, while the stones’ presence may have been due to the negligence of store employees, Piotrowski provided no evidence that such was the case. Although all inferences should be resolved in favor of the plaintiff, the court explained that since there was a total lack of any evidence, aside from the plaintiff’s assumption that the store was responsible for the stones’ presence, summary judgement was appropriate in favor of the defense.

Have You Been Injured in a Washington, D.C. Accident?

Slip-and-fall accidents are almost always preventable. If you or a loved one has recently been a victim of a Washington, D.C. slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries from the responsible party. The skilled personal injury attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC have decades of experience assisting clients in bringing a wide variety of personal injury cases against at-fault parties, including cases brought under a theory of premises liability. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation with a dedicated attorney at the law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen.

More Blog Posts:

Court Holds Plaintiff Does Not Need to Release Unused Expert Witness’ Report, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, November 15, 2016

Plaintiff’s Product Liability Case Allowed to Proceed Under Strict Liability Theory, Washington DC Injury Lawyer Blog, December 9, 2016

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