What is the Legal Definition of a Party?
When you hear about personal injury cases, you might hear that one “party” is suing another “party.” But what do these “parties” mean, and who are they?
A “party” in the legal world is a person or group involved in a case. This wording is used because it refers to many people and things. For example, any of the following could be a party of a lawsuit:
- A business that has been wronged or that has wronged someone else
- An individual who was wronged or wronged someone else
- An insurance company representing a person or business
- A government entity, like a sheriff’s office or a local government
- A family suing on behalf of a loved one who was wronged or killed
Lawyers need a general term for “the people on this side of the lawsuit” and “the people on the other side” because there are so many different people, groups, and organizations that can bring lawsuits or be sued. Because of this, we say that one “party” sues another.
In personal injury law, the person, group, or company that files the lawsuit is called the plaintiff, and the person or group who is being sued is called the defendant.
When is a Person a "Party" in a Personal Injury Case?
In most personal injury cases, the plaintiff is an injured person or their family. When someone files a claim for loss, negligence, or personal injury, it is usually because someone was hurt.
Some examples of this are car accident cases where one or more people were injured or defective medical device cases where a device made by a large company hurt one or more patients.
If enough people were hurt in the same way, they could sometimes ask to be put into a lawsuit representing dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people. For example, this often happens in product liability cases, where one awful product injures many people.
People often call these group lawsuits “class action” lawsuits. Forming a class action lawsuit is beneficial for the people who were hurt because it lets them pool their resources, lower their legal costs, and get a single ruling that works for all of them.
When is a Business or Government Entity a Party to a Personal Injury Case?
A lot of lawsuits are brought against businesses. This isn’t because companies are bad; it’s because they often face more risk than individuals do. For instance:
- Businesses are legally responsible for everything their employees do, while private people are only responsible for what they do.
- If a business owns cars, they may be on the road around the clock in more than one city. A private person probably only spends an hour or two driving each day.
- Every day, thousands of people may visit a business, but only a few people may come to a private home each month.
- Businesses usually make things that thousands or even millions of people use.
Most of the time, businesses are involved in premises liability cases. This is when someone gets hurt on a business-owned property — like slipping on a freshly mopped floor. If the company or an employee did something careless that caused the injury, like not putting up a “wet floor” sign, the business might have to pay for the costs of the damage.
Government entities can generally be sued the same way businesses can, and for many of the same reasons. (For example, if you get hurt in a local park, you might have a case against the city for premises liability.) But there are some special rules about suing the government, and the deadlines are usually tighter.
What is the Most Common Party in a Personal Injury Lawsuit?
When you file a personal injury claim, most of the time, neither a person nor a business will be on the other side, at least not directly. Instead, you will work with their insurance company. This makes the case less personal and means that most people and companies won’t pay for any damages you win out of their own pockets. Usually, their insurance takes care of it.
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