When you hear about personal injury cases, you’ll often hear them described as one “party” filing a lawsuit against another “party.” But who are these parties and what does the term mean?
In the legal profession, a party is simply a person or group that’s involved in a legal action. This wording is used because it’s a broad term that includes many kinds of people and entities. For example, a lawsuit could involve any of the following:
- An individual person who was wronged, or who wronged someone else
- A family suing on behalf of a loved one who was wronged or even killed
- A business that has been wronged or that has wronged someone else
- An insurance company representing a person or a business
- A government entity, such as a sheriff’s office or a city government
Because there are so many kinds of people, groups and entities that can bring lawsuits (or be on the receiving end of one), lawyers need a catch-all term to refer to “the people on this side of the lawsuit” and “the people on the other side.” That is why we talk about one “party” suing another.
Regardless of whether it’s a person, group or company, in personal injury law the party that files the lawsuit is called the plaintiff and the party on the receiving side is called the defendant.
When is an individual person a party to a personal injury case?
The majority of personal injury cases have an individual (or their family) as the plaintiff. In other words, when someone files a claim over losses, negligence or personal injury, it’s usually because an individual was harmed. Examples of this include car accident cases, where one or more people where hurt in the accident, and defective medical device cases, where a device made by a large company ended up harming a single patient (or a number of patients).
Sometimes, if enough individuals were harmed in the same way, they can request to be grouped together into a single lawsuit representing dozens, hundreds or even thousands of victims. This is common in product liability cases, where a single faulty product has hurt many customers. These group lawsuits are often called “class action” lawsuits. Forming a class action lawsuit is usually a good thing for the individuals who were harmed, because it allows them to pool resources, reduce legal costs, and get a single ruling that works for every victim.
When is a business or government entity a party to a personal injury case?
Businesses are often on the receiving end of lawsuits. This isn’t because businesses are bad; it’s because they’re often exposed to more risk than individuals are. For example:
- A business may have thousands of people come on the premises every day, whereas a private home may only have a few guests per month.
- Businesses often make products that are used by thousands, or even millions of people.
- If a business owns vehicles, it may be on the roads 24/7 in multiple cities. A private individual is likely to spend only an hour or two a day on the road.
- Businesses are legally responsible for the actions of all of their employees, whereas private individuals are only responsible for their own actions.
The most common situation where we see a business involved in a lawsuit is premises liability cases. These are situations where a person is injured while on a business property—for example, slipping on freshly mopped floor. If the business (or an employee) did something negligent that led to the injury, such as not using a wet floor sign, the business may be liable for the costs of the injury.
Government entities can, in general, be sued just like businesses, and for many of the same reasons. (If you are injured in a local park, for example, you may have a premises liability case against the city.) But there are some special rules around filing claims against the government, and the deadlines are often shorter.
What is the most common party in a personal injury lawsuit?
Most of the time, when you file a personal injury claim, neither an individual nor a business will be on the other side—at least not directly. You will usually deal with their insurance company. This makes the case less personal, and it also means that neither individuals nor companies will typically pay out of pocket for any damages that you win. Their insurance usually handles it.
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