The Defendant in a Personal Injury Case
A typical personal injury case has two parties–the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff is typically the injured party, while the defendant is typically the party accused of causing the injury through some sort of misconduct. In many cases, the defendant’s insurance company is the party that will ultimately pay any compensation.
Table of Contents
What the Plaintiff Must Prove To Win
The typical personal injury case relies on negligence. To win a negligence claim against a defendant, you must prove the presence of the following legal elements:
- The defendant owed the victim a duty of care;
- The defendant breached their duty of care.
- The victim suffered harm.
- The defendant’s misconduct was the direct and proximate cause of the victim’s harm.
Other types of personal injury claims, such as product liability claims, do not rely on the presence of the above-stated legal elements.
Examples of Personal Injury Defendants
Following are some examples of typical defendants in personal injury cases:
- Property owners, landlords, and business owners (in premises liability cases),
- Dog owners (dog bite cases),
- Product manufacturers (product liability cases)
- Doctors and other healthcare providers (in medical malpractice cases),
- Government agencies, and
- Nursing homes and nursing home staff (nursing home abuse cases).
This list is far from complete. Almost any party that wrongfully harms another can be named as a defendant. In some cases, an injury victim might file a claim against an innocent party who is responsible for the wrongful acts of the at-fault party under the principle of vicarious liability.
Vicarious Liability: Suing Someone for Someone Else’s Misconduct
New York law allows you to file a claim against certain parties for the misconduct of others. Typical examples include:
- Employers. You can sue an employer for the misconduct of their employee as long as their acts were within the scope of their employment duties.
- Retailers and wholesalers can bear liability for a defective product that they sell.
- Alcohol vendors can bear liability for serving alcohol to underage or visibly intoxicated persons.
It is much harder to hold someone liable for the actions of an independent contractor they hired than for their employee’s actions. You can hold a hiring party liable for negligent hiring; however, this is not vicarious liability since you are suing someone for their own negligence.
Common Defense Arguments in a Personal Injury Case
The following are ten of the most common defenses raised by defendants in personal injury cases.
Failure To State a Claim
The “failure to state claim” defense wins when the defendant would not bear liability even if every fact alleged by the victim was true. For example, you sue your doctor for medical malpractice after they misdiagnosed you with a terminal disease. If you were actually healthy and the only harm you suffered was a scare, your medical malpractice claim cannot stand.
The Statute of Limitations Has Expired
In most personal injury cases in New York, you have three years after the injury to file a personal injury lawsuit. Your claim will die immediately if you miss the applicable deadline.
The defendant might raise a defense of comparative fault if the accident was partly your fault. This is not a complete defense, but it will reduce the amount of damages the defendant has to pay.
Failure To Mitigate Damages
A court will not award you damages for the harm you could have avoided through exercising reasonable care. Suppose, for example, you suffered head injuries while not wearing a helmet in a motorcycle accident. The court can refuse to pay you damages for your head injuries even if the accident was the defendant’s fault.
Lack of Duty of Care
Under certain circumstances, the defendant might have no duty of care toward you. This might happen if, for example, you were injured by a dangerous condition on the defendant’s property while you were trespassing.
To win a personal injury case, you must prove cause and effect. Normally, this means you must prove a direct chain of events from the defendant’s misconduct and your injury. If an external intervening event occurred, it might break the chain of cause and effect enough to allow the defendant to win.
Assumption of Risk
The defendant might win an “assumption of risk” defense against you if you understood the dangers of the activity and voluntarily agreed to assume them. This defense might apply, for example, after a skydiving accident.
Waiver of Liability
Under limited circumstances, the defendant might get off the hook if you signed a liability waiver before engaging in the activity that resulted in your injuries. New York, however, has many laws limiting the circumstances under which a waiver of liability is effective.
If your injuries predated the accident, then the defendant’s misconduct could not have caused them. Insurance companies frequently assert this defense.
Lack of Jurisdiction
If the accident occurred outside of New York and neither party is from New York, the court might have no jurisdiction to hear the case. Jurisdictional limitations prevent the victim from “forum shopping”–filing a lawsuit in whatever state is most likely to be friendly to their claim.
Talk To a New York City Personal Injury Lawyer
Whether you are a plaintiff or a defendant, your lawyer needs to understand the defenses to a personal injury claim. As a defendant, you must know them to assert them against the plaintiff. As a plaintiff, you need to understand what type of defenses you might face. An experienced New York City personal injury lawyer will know all of the relevant defenses by heart.