Some may believe that lawsuits are won or lost based on complex legal arguments or shrewd strategy. However, as recently illustrated in a California employment dispute, sometimes the outcome of a lawsuit depends on the basics, like making sure the lawsuit is filed against the proper defendant. In a recent California case, an aggrieved employee brought suit against his employer, whom he named in the lawsuit. The employer was able to obtain a dismissal in their favor because the employee had improperly identified his actual employer (the case is presently being appealed).
Who is the Defendant?
In any California personal injury lawsuit, the “defendant” is the individual or entity alleged to have caused the victim’s injuries through negligent or reckless conduct. One of the first things you will do with your personal injury lawsuit is to name the defendant and serve a copy of your complaint or petition on the defendant you name. But just because you name a certain person or entity as a defendant does not mean that he or she is obligated to litigate the matter on the merits. In the recent case, for example, the employee’s lawsuit was dismissed before the merits of the case were litigated because the type of lawsuit filed by the employee could only be brought against the employee’s legal employer. Because the defendant named by the employee was determined not to be the employee’s legal employer, the defendant was not obligated to litigate the matter on the merits.
In some cases, it can be equally as important to identify all of the defendants responsible for causing a personal injury accident as it is to ensure each defendant is properly identified and served. Failing to do so can affect the amount of compensation you are able to obtain for your injuries and losses.
How Do I Know I am Suing the Right Defendant?
Sometimes it is clear who you should name as the defendant in your lawsuit. In a two-car crash in which the other driver ran a stop sign, it is clear that the other driver would be the defendant you would name in your lawsuit. If that other driver was operating a car or truck for the benefit of his or her employer at the time of the crash, however, that person’s employer may be the proper defendant to sue. The crucial question to ask is not necessarily who is involved in the injury accident but who is responsible for the accident. Where a business is determined to be a potential defendant, a plaintiff must be careful that the business’s legal name is used and not the name of some subsidiary or “nickname” for the business. Similarly, an individual’s real name should be used, not a “nickname.” There are resources available that can help an injury plaintiff in properly identifying a defendant.
While failing to identify the proper defendant may not necessarily mean that the plaintiff is forever barred from obtaining compensation, it will certainly increase the amount of time it takes to obtain compensation and may limit the amount of compensation the plaintiff can receive.
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(photo courtesy of American Trucking Group)