Wrongful death claims are inherently complex for both sides, and in many situations it takes a jury trial to determine fault and if an employer or insurance company needs to provide compensation to the victim’s family. However, in some situations, the facts of the case are fairly clear-cut, allowing for what’s called a “summary judgment.” A recent case before the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands illustrates how this process works.

The case, Bertrand v. Cordiner Enterprises, involved a wrongful death claim after a large, 800-pound marble slab crushed a worker while he was unloading it from a shipping container in April 2008. The worker died several days after the accident.

Soon after, the administrator of the deceased’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Cordiner Enterprises, as well the Abaco, manufacturer of the lifting clamp, and Mystic Granite & Marble, the organization that initially loaded the container.

The plaintiff argued that Mystic was negligent in its loading of the container, and that the Abaco Lifter 50 Professional Series clamp used to unload the slabs was flawed. In addition, the lawsuit alleged that Michael Cordiner was negligent in his operation of the crane that loaded the container.

After both sides presented initial arguments and evidence, Mystic made a motion for summary judgment, in which at least one party asks the court to expeditiously dismiss the case before going to trial. The plaintiff objected to the motion, but the court ruled in favor of both Mystic and Abaco on the issue. It did so due to a lack of “material fact,” which is any evidence whose existence or non-existence impacts the outcome of a case. In making this ruling, the Superior Court agreed with the defendants that there were no genuine issues of material fact that would prevent a summary judgment in the suit.

In other words, it was apparent that there was no clear evidence that Mystic was at fault for the worker’s death. Additionally, it did not appear that Abaco’s clamp was the reason for the accident, but rather the worker’s own handling of the clamp.

Every personal injury or wrongful death case is different, but it’s important to know that in some situations, it may be possible to have a case dismissed quickly through a summary judgment — especially when there is a lack of evidence on the part of the plaintiff.

BoltNagi is a widely respected and established civil litigation law firm serving individuals and businesses throughout the U.S.Virgin Islands.