George Washington Law Review has published an article titled, appropriately, Against Summary Judgment. The premise of the article is that summary judgment is an archaic procedural device that usurps the role of the jury.
Nonsense. Summary judgment resolves cases that juries should not have to decide because the law bars the claim… or the defense.
I find particularly annoying this premise of the article: summary judgment is bad because most cases that now go to summary judgment would settle early rather than go to trial. In other words, cases that should fail because they have not stated a claim under the law will still settle because the defendant will want to avoid the risks and costs of litigation.
Setting aside offensive summary judgment for a second which is an important tool in a plaintiffs’ lawyers arsenal, I’m a personal injury lawyer who would theoretically benefit from such a paradigm shift in jurisprudence. What a great system for tort lawyers, right? You get paid on all claims, not just the just claims. Can’t get a doctor to support your claim that the injuries from the car accident are related a plaintiff’s injuries? Who cares? Let a jury decide or, better yet, try to induce settlement because the defendant does not want – for whatever reason, including litigation costs – to go to trial.
It is a home run with one little victim: justice. It is not fair for defendants to fight claims that are not really legitimate claims because the law does not allow them. If you file a lawsuit and don’t have a case the law supports, that claims should be dismissed as quickly as possible. Moreover, it unfairly lessens the settlement value of legitimate claims brought by victims who are both hurt and have a real cause of action under the tort laws that we have agreed upon as a society.
When you think about it, the mirror image of this insanity is caps on non-economic damages. Cases that should not be brought should be dismissed; juries verdicts in meaningful cases should be allowed to stand.
You can find this law review article discussing why summary judgment should be abolished here.