In a motor vehicle accident civil lawsuit, there are two parties involved, the plaintiff and the defendant. In this article, we will define the term “plaintiff” and explain their role in auto accidents. 

Key Takeaways

  • A plaintiff is a party who originates a lawsuit.
  • Plaintiffs are responsible for filing initial complaints and proving their claims.
  • In a motor vehicle case, the plaintiff the person filing the lawsuit who experienced loss as the result of an accident.
  • In a personal injury case, the plaintiff is the person who was injured due to another party’s negligence.
  • In medical malpractice cases, the plaintiff is the patient who was hurt due to a healthcare professional’s negligence.
  • In bankruptcy, the plaintiff in adversary proceedings and/or lawsuits predating the bankruptcy case may be the debtor, creditor, and/or bankruptcy trustee.
  • The plaintiff’s burden of proof involves four elements: duty of care, breach of duty, causation, and damages.

What Is a Plaintiff?

In civil law, the party who files a lawsuit is called the plaintiff. This is opposed to the party who the lawsuit is filed against, who is called the defendant.

As a plaintiff, individuals have several responsibilities, including drafting the initial complaint that is filed to the court stating the legal basis for the plaintiff’s claim and proving their allegations (a concept called the burden of proof). 

The Plaintiff in Motor Vehicle Cases

Not every motor vehicle accident leads to a civil lawsuit. Many are able to be settled outside of court directly between the involved parties and their insurance providers. However, it is not uncommon for individuals to be unhappy with the compensation offered to them by insurers and file lawsuits in order to seek what they believe to be is a fairer payout. 

In these situations, the individual who files the lawsuit is the plaintiff. The defendant is the other party whom the plaintiff is claiming is at fault for the accident. Note that although the defendant is an individual, their insurance provider is still involved in the case. The insurer is required to both provide legal counsel for the insured and to pay out any damages on their behalf. 

The Plaintiff in Personal Injury Cases

In personal injury lawsuits, the plaintiff is the person who was injured. The defendant may be a number of parties depending on who was responsible for the injury. If the plaintiff slipped and fell on somebody’s property, the defendant may be the owner of the property. If the plaintiff was bitten by a dog, the defendant would be the dog owner who was negligent in allowing the dog to attack somebody.  

The Plaintiff in Medical Malpractice Cases

One specific type of personal injury lawsuit is a medical malpractice suit, in which the plaintiff is a medical patient who sought the care of a healthcare professional and was injured as a result. The plaintiff’s injuries may have been caused by a number of negligent acts, including:

  • Failure to diagnose
  • Misdiagnosis.
  • Misreading laboratory results
  • Unnecessary surgery
  • Surgical errors
  • Improper medication or dosage
  • Premature discharge.

The defendant in medical malpractice cases is usually the medical practitioner or the hospital who failed to offer the expected duty of care, leading to the plaintiff’s injuries. 

The Plaintiff in Bankruptcy Cases

There are two situations in which there may be a plaintiff in a bankruptcy case.

The first is if there is an adversary proceeding filed as part of the bankruptcy case. An adversary proceeding is like a lawsuit filed within the bankruptcy court. Like with other civil lawsuits, adversary proceedings have plaintiffs and defendants. The plaintiff in an adversary proceeding may be the debtor, the creditor(s), and/or the bankruptcy trustee. 

The second is if the debtor and/or creditor(s) were involved in lawsuits before the commencement of the bankruptcy case. Generally, such lawsuits must stop upon the filing of the bankruptcy petition unless the bankruptcy judge gives special permission for it to continue. 

If a debtor is a plaintiff in a lawsuit, the trustee and court must be notified immediately to determine whether or not the lawsuit can continue or if it must be brought into the bankruptcy court. In Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases, if the debtor was the plaintiff at the time the bankruptcy case was filed, the trustee will usually become the new plaintiff.

The Plaintiff’s Burden of Proof

One of the most important duties of a plaintiff in a motor vehicle accident case is to prove that the other party was, indeed, at fault. This means providing evidence such as:

  • Photographs and/or videos from the scene of the accident
  • Police reports
  • Medical records
  • Witness statements

This evidence will be used to establish the four elements of burden of proof that must be demonstrated in order for it to be determined that the defendant was negligent. These elements include:

  • Duty of care - Legally, all drivers owe a duty of care to others on the road to drive safely
  • Breach of duty - The plaintiff must prove that the defendant did not meet their duty of care to drive safely
  • Causation - The plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s breach of duty caused injury and/or loss to them
  • Damages - Damages is the term that refers to the losses you’ve suffered such as medical expenses, vehicle damage, pain, and suffering 

Proving fault can be tricky, but there are a few methods that can be helpful to use.

First, it is fairly clear cut to prove that the defendant was at fault if they obviously violated a traffic law such as running a red light or failing to yield.

Another situation in which fault is fairly straightforward is in cases of a rear-end impact or a left-turn impact. In rear-end impacts, the driver in the rear is automatically assumed to be at fault. In left-turn impacts, the car making the left turn is assigned fault.

Finally, if you have a police report citing the defendant for a traffic violation related to the accident, it is is a very strong tool for the plaintiff’s case.

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