Understanding when a Summary Judgement is used to decide a Personal Injury Claim

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Accidents resulting in personal injury happen almost every day in Ontario, and in many cases, careless or negligent actions are a factor. For this reason, many accidents result in personal injury claims against the at fault driver or party responsible for the accident and resulting damages.

While some claims make it all the way to a trial, the majority of cases are settled earlier. There are many steps prior to a personal injury trial where both sides are allowed the opportunity to come to a resolution, such as mediation and pre-trial hearings.

Of course, sometimes the two parties disagree on the issue of liability, specifically when a defendant denies that they were responsible and in those cases, the latter will likely seek a summary judgement to have the claim dismissed by a judge.

This was the issue to be decided in the summary judgement for Abuajina v. Haval.

A summary judgement is a procedure used in civil law to expeditiously decide a case without going to trial. A judge may themselves decide that a summary judgement is the appropriate method of deciding a case or an issue, but often, it involves a motion by one party or even both parties to decide on only one aspect of a case or the entire merits of a case.

In personal injury suits, a summary judgement action is often sought to resolve the issue of liability. If one or more of the parties are found liable, then a further action or trial would be required to decide the amount of damages.

Case example

Plaintiff Mazen Abuajina was struck as he was attempting to cross the road by a vehicle driven by the defendant Rancho Havel, who was trying to make a right hand turn at the time.

The two parties differ on their description of the events leading up to the accident, with Mr. Haval insisting that he looked left and right and did not see anyone before advancing, while Mr. Abuajina insists he waited for a green light and made sure that the defendant's vehicle was not moving before he proceeded to cross the road.

One key eyewitness, a TTC bus driver who was at a bus stop at the time, stated that she saw Mr. Abuajina run into the middle of the right passenger side of the defendant's vehicle, which was in the process of making a right hand turn.

As a result of the differing accounts, the issue of liability was in question.

Mr. Haval argued that he was not responsible for the plaintiff's injuries because the latter carelessly jumped into the road and thus, inadvertently caused the accident. Accordingly, Mr. Havel sought a summary judgement to have Mr. Abuajina's claim dismissed.

Mr. Abuajina's counsel countered that a summary judgement would not be appropriate due to the fact that the question of liability largely rested on the eyewitness account, which in turn raised the issue of credibility. That is, the credibility of the eyewitness, which they believed could only be resolved through a trial.

Justice Mew was tasked with deciding if the written evidence and statements provided by both the plaintiff and defendant were sufficient for him to make a summary judgement on the issue of liability. He concluded that it was not.

Referring to the decision of Sweda Farms v. Egg Farmers of Ontario, Justice Mew outlined the necessary analysis a judge must make with regard to granting summary judgement.

This essentially includes:

  1. ) confidence that the parties have introduced all the evidence available for trial; and
  2. ) that on the basis of this evidence, the court can decide whether or not it can make the necessary findings of fact, apply the law to said facts and finally, achieve a fair and reasonable judgement.

Justice Mew decided that, with respect to the second element, he could not fairly resolve the issue of liability and thus grant summary judgement. This decision was based on the fact that there were still many questions he believed should have been asked of the witnesses as well as other evidence which should have been presented to establish credibility and by that token, allow Justice Mew to properly assess liability.

Some of the outstanding questions and issues included: the fact that the plaintiff was not asked what time he was due to be at work on the day of the accident; no video footage was presented of the incident; and there was no evidence presented to determine the position of the sun at the time of the accident. The latter was relevant because the plaintiff claimed that the sun was in his face as he crossed the road.

Justice Mew also noted that the defendant was never asked about seeing or noticing a bus at the time of the accident and never stated seeing one in his statements or affidavit. This is significant as a key part of the defendant's case hinges on the credibility of the bus driver who claims to have seen the plaintiff run into the road.

For all these reasons, Justice Mew rejected Mr. Haval's request for summary judgement.

Finally, with regard to the appropriateness of a mini-trial, Justice Mew once again ruled against the request, noting that he would likely hear testimony from the plaintiff, defendant, investigating officer and possibly the eyewitness in this mini-trial, which are essentially the same individuals likely to testify in a full trial. Therefore a mini-trial would not serve the goals of timeliness and affordability because it would likely make the process unnecessarily longer and create additional costs for both sides.

Further, Justice Mew stated that this action was a fairly routine personal injury case, which meant there would be a mandatory mediation and pre-trial prior to an actual trial, both of which would offer opportunities for the case to be resolved without ever having to go to trial.

The judge ruled that a mini-trial is unnecessary and would serve no purpose.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident due to another's negligence, it is in your best interests to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer as soon as possible. Whenever serious injuries are caused by an act of negligence, whether the result of a car accident, slip, trip and fall incident, snowmobile collision or another accident, an injured person is eligible to sue the 'at fault' party for damages.

If your injuries resulted from a motor vehicle accident, you may also be eligible to receive injury compensation from your 'no fault' automobile insurance policy.

Although car accident insurance claims may be resolved without the benefit of an attorney, insurance companies sometimes deny the full benefits you deserve or dismiss your claim. A personal injury lawyer has the expertise to advise you on your best course of action for obtaining full compensation for your injuries, whether by means of a civil suit against the responsible party, a 'no fault' accident benefits claim (in the case of a motor vehicle accident), or both.

When the negligent party denies any culpability or your insurer questions your claim or the extent of your injuries, you need strong and knowledgeable representation on your side.

At Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers, our goal is to achieve optimum compensation for our clients. We know that when someone suffers severe or catastrophic injuries injuries, the recovery process places a huge toll on the injured person and their loved ones.

Our legal staff are here to relieve you of the stress and burden of resolving your claim and any related legal issues, by providing guidance and support to you and your family throughout the entire claims process.


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