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Case Summary: Gladu v. Hearn – Summary Judgment Motion Regarding Liability

Justice R. D. Gordon recently ruled on a Summary Judgment motion relating to who was at fault in a motor vehicle accident.  In Gladu v. Hearn, 2013 ONSC 7608 (CanLII) , a Third Party attempted to remove himself from the litigation process by asking the Court to find there was no chance that he would be found liable for the accident.

What is a Summary Judgment Motion?

A Summary Judgment motion is a court proceeding similar to a “mini-trial,” and based almost entirely on the written record of the evidence.

The Rules of Civil Procedure were amended in 2010 to allow Summary Judgment motions to be used more broadly than before.  Summary Judgment motions are appropriate only where a “full appreciation” of the evidence and issues can be achieved without the benefit of a full trial, which would include hearing the witnesses give the evidence in their own words and counsel providing arguments relating to the evidence.

The purpose of Summary Judgment motions are to help unclog a backlogged justice system by quickly weeding out cases where a trial is unnecessary because one or more parties have no chance of success.  This also helps litigants save on unnecessary legal fees.  However, if a Summary Judgment motion is unsuccessful, it can lengthen the litigation process and increase legal fees.  Careful consideration must be made before a motion like this is attempted.

Why was a Summary Judgment Motion Attempted in this Case?

Gladu v. Hearn relates to a motor vehicle accident in Sudbury, Ontario.  The Defendant John Hearn was driving a thirty-three foot motorhome in the passing lane of the two lane northbound road.  The Plaintiff Denis Gladu was a passenger in a car that was in an accident with the motorhome.  The Third Party Phillip Gladu (Denis’ son) was driving the car involved in the accident.  A “Third Party” is a litigant that was not directly sued by the Plaintiff, but added to the litigation by the Defendant.

What happened to cause the accident depends on who you ask.  Conflicting witness accounts are a red flag for most Summary Judgment motions because if the witnesses do not agree a judge will likely have to weigh the credibility of each witness and a full trial is likely required.

The Plaintiff and Third Party say that they were traveling beside the motorhome in the curbside lane when it suddenly and without warning began to change lanes and contacted their car’s left front fender.

The Defendant and his wife say that they signaled to change lanes, checked beside them, saw no vehicles, began to change lanes, and then felt a “bump” towards the back of the passenger-side fender.  They then saw the third party’s car bounce off the curb and hit the motorhome in the front passenger-side fender.  They say that the third party admitted after the collision that he was attempting to speed past them in the right lane.

The Third Party brought the Summary Judgment motion, asking the Court to dismiss him from the action.  The Third Party’s position was that the Defendant’s story does not make sense, is not credible or reliable, and if accurate, the Third Party could technically not indemnify the Defendant for any damages.

Justice Gordon disagreed with the Third Party and dismissed the motion.  A full trial is required to determine if the Third Party is liable for part or all of the accident.

Justice Gordon states in his decision that because of the lack of independent witnesses and physical evidence “it is necessary to hear the testimony of the witnesses and to have them face cross-examination in order to make the required findings of fact.”  Based on the record before him, Justice Gordon did not have a “full appreciation” of all of the evidence required to determine who was fully or partially liable for this accident.

Why is this Case Important?

While this case is very brief and certainly does not make any groundbreaking changes to the common law, it serves as a good example of what kinds of motions are appropriate for Summary Judgment motions.  Where there is a lack of independent witnesses or physical evidence and there are conflicting witness accounts, Summary Judgment motions are unlikely to be successful.

Nicholson Gluckstein Lawyers

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