A summary judgement is a motion brought by one party against another to have a case decided summarily, without going to trial. The motions judge may be asked to decide on specific issues of a case or the merits of the entire case. In either situation, the party bringing the motion must persuade the judge that there is no genuine issue requiring a trial. Either a plaintiff or defendant in a civil suit may make a motion for summary judgement. This process is governed by Rule 20 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
Rule 20 was amended in 2010 to ‘improve access to justice’ by allowing judges greater discretion to decide cases and thus avoid protracted trials and the associated expenses and delays of such trials. The summary judgement process is intended not only to filter out claims that lack merit, but also permits judges to adjudicate a greater number of cases, for cases that be fairly decided on the balance of the evidence presented. Essentially, a judge may dismiss a case summarily if they are provided with the requisite evidence to fairly and justly resolve the dispute.
Even cases of substantive issues may be decided by summary judgement if a judge determines there is sufficient evidence to settle a case fairly. In a landmark summary judgement case, Hryniak v. Mauldin, 2014, the motion judge used his powers under Rule 20.04(2.1) to weigh the evidence and conclude that a trial was not required to decide a case of civil fraud against Hryniak. This fraud case was filed after a group of investors wired U.S. $1.2 million into Hryniak’s company, but a few months later, over U.S.$10 million was transferred to an offshore account and the money disappeared. Although this case is not a typical and in many respects, appropriate candidate for summary judgement, the Supreme Court of Canada found, on appeal, that the evidence and record supported the motion judge’s finding that Hryniak had committed civil fraud.
It is not uncommon for defendants in a personal injury suit to bring forth a motion to have the case against them dismissed by summary judgement. In Morante-McRae v. King, 2013, the defendant in a lawsuit for damages arising from a motor vehicle accident, brought forward a motion to have the case dismissed summarily on the grounds that he had no liability for the plaintiff’s injuries. The accident occurred when, while travelling southbound, the defendant crashed into the plaintiff’s car travelling eastbound, near a rural intersection in Simcoe County. The defendant had the right of way, with no stop sign in his direction, and he alleged that the plaintiff failed to stop or yield, pulled out in front of him, and gave him no chance to avoid the collision.
The motion judge stated that the question to be decided by the courts is “whether the driver with the right-of-way had the opportunity to avoid the collision in all of the circumstances”. The motion judge surmised that the court may find some degree of liability on the part of the defendant, and an unresolved question is, whether the defendant was travelling at the appropriate rate of speed given the winter road conditions. Therefore, the issue of the defendant’s liability was determined to be a genuine issue for trial, and the defendant’s motion for summary judgement was dismissed.
A decision in summary judgement reduces the cost and time of a more lengthy trial. However, the fundamental objective for the courts is to ensure that justice is done. Therefore, a motion judge will render an opinion summarily only if there is sufficient evidence to convince the court that they can make a fair decision based on all the facts presented.
Summary judgement is a pre-trial procedure only for such cases as need to be resolved in a trial. However, the vast majority of personal injury claims are resolved through negotiation with the opposing party. If you or a loved one suffered personal injury in any type of accident, call the Injury Lawyers of Ontario (ILO) for expert advice on your legal rights and on the optimal approach for reaching a favourable settlement given the unique circumstances of your case.