Who are the Plaintiffs and Defendants in Personal Injury Cases?
In most personal injury cases, the plaintiff is the person suing and the defendant is the person being sued.
Who Can Be A Plaintiff?
A plaintiff can be anyone who suffered harm because of the defendant’s actions. Usually, the plaintiff is a person directly affected either emotionally or physically by the incident. But the plaintiff can also be a bystander or a relative of one of the injured parties.
When people die or become incapacitated because of their injuries, their estate, their guardian, or their close family members can sue on their behalf. And in some cases, the plaintiff’s insurance company can take over the suit.
While any number of individuals or organizations could be a plaintiff, what they all must have in common is that they were negatively affected by the defendant’s actions and are now seeking compensation.
Who Can Be A Defendant?
The defendant is usually the person who injured the plaintiff. But in cases where the original defendant dies, his or her estate might become the defendant. In other cases, the defendant’s insurance company might take over.
Whether the defendant is an individual, a corporation, or a government entity will significantly influence trial strategy. Specifically, if the defendant is a government entity, the plaintiff might run into issues of sovereign liability, a defense the government can use to avoid liability in personal injury cases.
If the defendant was working when he or she injured the plaintiff, it could be possible to hold the defendant’s employer liable for the damages. For example, if a UPS delivery truck hits your car, you would sue UPS for the damages as opposed to the delivery driver. Similarly, if the defendant is self-employed and injures you while performing a business function, you could hold the defendant’s business liable.
Often times, plaintiffs will try to show that the actions of several individuals or entities contributed to their injuries. For example, the victim of an automobile accident might sue the manufacturer of her vehicle in addition to other drivers, if she believes the car’s design failed to protect her adequately. In this case, the defendants might include one or more drivers, their employers, and an automobile manufacturer.
What do Plaintiffs and Defendants Do at Trial?
In the context of personal injury cases, the plaintiff is tasked with proving that:
- The defendant breached a duty of care owed to the plaintiff. For example, there is general duty to drive safely on public roadways, or for store managers to keep their stores safe for customers.
- The defendant’s breach of duty caused an injury to the plaintiff.
In response, the defendant can:
- Argue that it owed no duty to the plaintiff, that it did not breach its duty, or that its actions did not cause the plaintiff’s injuries.
- Put together an affirmative defense, which involves showing that the plaintiff’s own negligence caused the accident
- Counter sue the plaintiff. For example, if the defendant also sustained injuries in the accident, he or she could attempt to collect from the original plaintiff.
Since the defendant can counter sue the plaintiff, there are some cases where the original plaintiffs end up being the defendants. For this reason, don’t always assume that the plaintiff is the original victim.