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Plaintiff Vs. Defendant: The Difference In A Personal Injury Case

Legal terminology can often be confusing, especially for those who haven’t dealt with legal matters before. People in the United States believe that legal English phrases and legal jargon are unnecessarily difficult. As a result, legal English is attempting to become more intelligible to the general public.

There are two terms, however, that have never changed or been attempted to be replaced: plaintiff and defendant. These legal phrases are extremely important in civil proceedings, where they are mostly utilized. The plaintiff is the one who files the case, whereas the defendant is the person accused of wrongdoing. Additionally, there are some crucial differences that must be understood if you are thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit

An experienced attorney will probably use these terms, but do not worry, they know that not everyone is an expert, so they will gladly explain every word to you. 

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Who is the plaintiff in a personal injury claim?

The plaintiff is always the person or entity who files the lawsuit. This person or party must file “the complaint”. The complaint is a document that contains all of the details of the litigation. This same document must later be served upon the defendant.

The etymological origin of the word dates back to the 13th century when it was derived from the Anglo-French word “pleintif,” which signified “complaining“: a general description of what the plaintiff must do in court.

Around the 15th century, it was introduced into the legal vocabulary. Imagine that two drivers get involved in a car collision. Susan, the driver of car A is hit by Mark, the driver of car B because Mark was texting and he was not paying attention to the road. Susan ended up with a broken arm as a result of the crash. Susan is now filing a personal injury lawsuit against Mark to recover compensation for her damages. In this case, Susan is the plaintiff. 

what is a plaintiff and what is a defendant
What Is A Plaintiff And What Is A Defendant? | Greenberg & Stein | Contact Us To Get Help

Who is the defendant in a personal injury claim?

The defendant, conversely, is the individual facing accusations of wrongdoing. To easily remember the meaning of this term, just remember that the defendant must defend themselves from the plaintiff’s accusations.

If you consider the preceding scenario, Mark is the defendant. Mark faces an accusation of driving carelessly and causing the accident. Susan’s charges require Mark and his attorney to defend themselves.

Are petitioner and plaintiff the same thing?

Another term you may be familiar with is “petitioner.” Nonetheless, this phrase is distinct from “plaintiff.”

There are significant distinctions between these two terms. First and foremost, the plaintiff is the one who files the lawsuit. A petitioner is someone who files a petition in a higher court, regardless of whether they were the plaintiff or defendant in a lower court. However, the petitioner, who lost in a lower court, typically seeks a review of the decision by a higher court.

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Are the defendant and the respondent the same?

The terms “defendant” and “respondent” are distinct and are occasionally used improperly as if they had the same meaning. The defendant is the person against whom a lawsuit is being filed. The respondent is the person against whom a petition in a higher court is being filed. That means that if the petitioner is the person who lost in a lower court, the respondent is the person who won in the lower court. 

How do you identify a plaintiff and a defendant in a personal injury case?

If you are having problems identifying who is the plaintiff and who is the defendant in a personal injury case, there is a very simple way to find out. The plaintiff’s last name is usually first in the case name. Remember the imaginary case with Susan and Mark? Well, let’s imagine that Susan’s last name is Gibbs and Mark’s last name is Watson. The case name would be Gibbs v. Watson. And just like that, you can identify who is the plaintiff and who is the defendant. 

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What is the burden of proof?

When bringing a personal case, the plaintiff must understand that they bear the “burden of proof.” The plaintiff bears the burden of proving that their allegations are true. The plaintiff must present enough evidence to prove that the defendant committed the wrongdoing they are accused of.

Let us return to the case of Gibbs v. Watson. Susan Gibbs must demonstrate that Mark Watson was responsible for the crash, rather than Mark having to prove his innocence. Susan Gibbs and her attorney will have to provide the evidence that can convince the jury that the chances of Mark being responsible are greater than 50%.

Learn how to use these legal terms correctly in a personal injury case

If you’ve never attended law school, navigating the legal world can be daunting due to the complex language and terminology often used. Fortunately, you do not need to know all these complicated words and terms by heart. If you are thinking about filing a personal injury lawsuit, make sure to contact an experienced attorney to get the best legal assistance possible. Your lawyer should be able to explain to you every word that you do not understand or you are not completely sure of what it implies. At Greenberg & Stein P.C., our legal team has worked with countless clients and we have helped them succeed in court. Our lawyers are ready to assist you in every step of recovering compensation for your damages, whether you were in a car accident or attacked by a dog. To schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at 212-681-2535.

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