I am an Atlanta, Georgia personal injury lawyer, and in a car wreck case I handled recently, the defendant insurance company argued that it had never received notice of the car accident. The evidence was crystal clear, though, that the insurance company knew all about the car accident.
The insurance company moved for something called “summary judgment”. “Summary judgment” is a quick judgment, made by the judge, even before a trial gets started. The idea behind summary judgment is to avoid wasting a jury’s time if there really is not a case. Courts only want a jury to spend time hearing any type of case – be it personal injury or negligence lawsuit, or a car accident lawsuit or truck accident lawsuit- if the case meets the minimum legal requirements to be a case.
As the attorney for the car accident victim, I showed the court the letter to the insurance company telling them about the wreck, and the testimony of the company that had owned the vehicle that they had called the insurance company and reported the accident. The judge denied the Defendant’s motion for summary judgment on that issue. The case settled at that point, but if it had not then we still would have gone on to a trial before a jury, even though we had won the motion for summary judgment. In our case the motion had decided just one issue in the case: whether the insurance company had notice of the car wreck. It did not decide who caused the wreck or what the damages to my client were. A jury still would have needed to decide those issues.
Courts are not supposed to grant summary judgment motions routinely. In general, in our justice system we prefer to let the jury decide lawsuits. In Georgia, the standard for summary judgment is very high:
“In general, `negligence issues are susceptible to summary adjudication only in plain, palpable and indisputable cases; the evidence must be construed most favorably to the party opposing the motion, and he must be given the benefit of all favorable inferences and reasonable doubts. . . . Summary judgment may be granted only where, construing all inferences against the movant, it yet appears without dispute that the case can have but one outcome and that outcome must be in the movant’s favor.’”
Godinho v. City of Tybee Island, 231 Ga.App. 377, 380, 499 S.E.2d 389  (1998) (city failed to meet burden on its motion for summary judgment), quoting from Sykes v. Colony Regency Partners, 226 Ga. App. 804, 806, 487 S.E.2d 408 (1997). See also English v. City of Macon, 259 Ga.App. 766, 577 S.E.2d 837  (2003).
“[Q]uestions of negligence, diligence, and proximate cause are peculiarly matters for the jury, and a court should not take the place of the jury in solving them except in plain and indisputable cases.” Jordan v. City of Rome, 417 S.E.2d 730, 203 Ga. App. 662  (1992) (record presented factual disputes as to whether city and chief of police received notice, whether the notice was sufficient to alert them, and whether they then reacted appropriately).