A motion for summary judgment can be a valuable tool for municipalities. In the right circumstances, it can lead to decreased costs and the early resolution of a lawsuit.
A summary judgment motion is filed by one of the parties in a lawsuit. It asks the court to render a judgment, without a trial, based upon the evidence filed with the court. The Supreme Court's decision in Hryniak confirms that these motions are an important tool for the fair and efficient administration of justice.
Certain circumstances are more appropriate for summary judgment motions. One example is when an individual slips and falls on an icy sidewalk. The plaintiff has an obligation to notify the city of their claim within 10 days of the alleged incident. If they do not notify the municipality, the plaintiff must establish that they had a reasonable excuse for failing to put the municipality on notice and that the municipality was not prejudiced by their failure to do so. If these conditions have not been met, a motion for summary judgment is an effective tool to dispense with the need for trial.
Because of these conditions, it will often be better to move for summary judgment after completing examinations for discovery. This gives defence counsel an opportunity to discover whether the plaintiff knew that the sidewalk was owned by the municipality and that the municipality was responsible for maintaining it. It gives defence counsel an opportunity to determine whether the plaintiff was physically and mentally capable of seeking advice or speaking to a lawyer in the period after the incident. This evidence, if favourable, strengthens the case for summary judgment.
It will also benefit the municipality to introduce evidence demonstrating the actions that would have been taken if notice had been received. Particularly in cases involving snow and ice, where conditions can change rapidly, a municipality's system for investigation bolsters the position that lack of notice is prejudicial.
This is not to say, however, that summary judgment is always the best path. Where a number of factual issues are in dispute, the court may be reluctant to render a judgment in the absence of a trial. This reluctance exists in spite of the amendments to Rule 20, which allow motions judges to weigh evidence, determine credibility, and make inferences. The fewer factual issues in dispute, the likelier it is that a defendant will be successful on a motion for summary judgment.