Recently, the New York Court of Appeals held that a plaintiff seeking partial summary judgement on liability in a personal injury, injury to property, or wrongful death action doesn’t have the burden of proving that she’s entirely free from fault.
Before this decision, a plaintiff generally couldn’t obtain summary judgment on liability if the defendant raised a triable issue of fact concerning her comparative fault. This made it difficult, if not impossible, for many plaintiffs to obtain partial summary judgment on liability.
For decades, it’s been clear that a claim isn’t entirely barred by a plaintiff’s culpable conduct. Stated differently, a plaintiff is entitled to pursue a claim even if her injury was partially her fault. But, usually, she couldn’t obtain partial summary judgment and instead would have to go to trial.
The Court of Appeals now tell us that because culpable conduct doesn’t bar a plaintiff’s claim, she correspondingly doesn’t have the burden to prove she’s free from culpability in order to win summary judgment. This means a plaintiff may obtain partial summary judgment on liability even where it’s likely that her conduct contributed, at least to some degree, to her injury.
That’s not to say that comparative fault isn’t important in these cases. It is. If, for example, a plaintiff is at fault for all or part of her injury, her damages will be reduced accordingly. But because comparative fault no longer bars an award of summary judgment, plaintiffs likely will be more interested in moving for partial summary judgment earlier in a case, particularly because it’s entered, interest at the New York statutory rate of 9% per year usually begins to run.
This change is important for determining the value of a case. Now, a plaintiff successfully can move for summary judgment as soon as she’s able to prove each of the elements of her claim. While her damages later may be somewhat reduced by her own fault, the damages ultimately awarded will accrue interest well before trial. Depending on the length of litigation, this amount can become significant.
If you’ve been seriously injured, the attorneys at The Coppola Firm have the experience to strategically navigate the complex process of litigation. Give us a call, as we stand ready to assist.