What Is a Plaintiff?
Learn more about what a plaintiff is in the context of a lawsuit. In this article, we discuss what a plaintiff is, how a plaintiff in a civil case differs from those in a criminal case and the difference between plaintiffs and defendants.
What Is a Plaintiff?
When people cannot resolve a conflict or dispute, they turn to the legal system to resolve it. The person or business that starts a civil case is called the plaintiff. The party a civil case is brought against is the defendant.
Plaintiffs initiate the legal action, usually with the help of a law firm, in a local civil court. Some civil cases, such as those claiming violations of federal employment laws, may be filed in federal district court.
Personal injury lawsuits, breach of contract cases, and debt disputes are only a few of the types of civil lawsuits filed in district courts, supreme courts, and other civil courts across the country.
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- A plaintiff is a person who starts a civil lawsuit to resolve a dispute against a defendant.
- The goal of a civil lawsuit is a settlement or judgment in favor of the plaintiff.
- Plaintiffs have the burden of proof in civil cases.
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What is a Plaintiff?
The term plaintiff is used for the party who starts a civil lawsuit. A plaintiff may resort to the courts to resolve a disagreement about a legal responsibility owed by a defendant. The following are examples of the types of cases a plaintiff may bring in a court of law:
- Personal injury.
- Breach of contract.
- Divorce, child support, and child custody.
- Wrongful death.
- Employment law cases, including discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination.
A person who sues someone in court is called a plaintiff. They want the court to decide the disagreement in their favor. The plaintiff’s lawyer prepares a document called a complaint that explains what the plaintiff is claiming.
The complaint also asks the defendant to pay money or provide some other kind of relief, such as complying with the terms of a contract.
If the amount of money involved in the case is not too high, the plaintiff can go to small claims court. In small claims court, the procedures are simpler, and the plaintiff can handle the case without a lawyer.
Each state has its own rules about what types of cases can be heard in small claims court. For example, in California, a plaintiff can file a case for up to $10,000, but in Virginia, the maximum is only $5,000. It’s important to seek legal advice to know what options are available in your state.
The responsibility to prove the claim lies with the plaintiff. Plaintiffs, or their lawyers, must present evidence proving their claim is true. In a civil case, the burden of proof is based on a “preponderance of the evidence,” which means the evidence must show that the plaintiff’s claim is more likely to be true than not.
In other words, the evidence must prove that there is a greater than 50% chance that the plaintiff’s claim is true. If not, the plaintiff loses the case, and the defendant wins.
Plaintiffs start the legal action, usually with the help of a law firm, in a local civil court. Some civil cases, such as those claiming violations of federal employment laws, may be filed in federal district court.
What is a Plaintiff’s Role in a Civil Lawsuit?
A plaintiff files a civil lawsuit asking for a court decision granting a judgment or court order in its favor against a defendant. The plaintiff’s lawyer prepares a complaint explaining the plaintiff’s claim. The complaint includes a demand for money or other relief from the defendant.
Depending on the amount of money at stake in the dispute, a plaintiff may be able to file the claim in small claims court. Court proceedings in small claims court are simplified to allow plaintiffs to handle the case without representation from a law firm.
Every state has rules for the types of cases allowed in small claims court. For instance, California lets a plaintiff file to recover up to $10,000 in small claims court, but the maximum you can sue for in small claims court in Virginia is only $5,000. Ask a lawyer for legal advice about the options available in your state.
The burden of proof is on the plaintiff. The plaintiff, or the law firm representing the plaintiff, must produce evidence proving the claim’s validity against the defendant. The burden of proof in a civil case is a preponderance of the evidence, which means the evidence must prove the plaintiff’s claim is more likely than not true. In other words, the evidence proves there is at least a greater than 50% chance of the truth of the plaintiff’s claim. Otherwise, the plaintiff loses, and the defendant wins.
Gathering evidence to build a strong case against a defendant also helps a plaintiff in need of money to borrow against a pending settlement or judgment. Companies offering lawsuit loans look at the likelihood of a favorable result in a pending lawsuit when considering an application for lawsuit funding.
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What is the Difference Between a Plaintiff and a Prosecutor?
The American legal system handles more than just civil cases. It also handles criminal cases brought by prosecutors against defendants violating state or federal criminal laws.
The primary difference between a plaintiff in a civil case and a prosecutor in a criminal case is that prosecutors do not bring the case to court to benefit themselves, as do plaintiffs.
For example, a personal injury case is to recover compensation for an injured plaintiff. A prosecutor files a criminal case on behalf of the people of a state or the United States. Prosecutors ask a court to punish a defendant for breaking the law.
Prosecutors have a higher burden of proof in criminal cases than plaintiffs have in civil lawsuits. The burden of proof in a criminal case is beyond a reasonable doubt. A judge, or jurors in a jury trial, must be convinced that no reasonable conclusion other than the defendant’s commission of the crime can be drawn from the evidence.
What’s the Difference Between A Plaintiff and a Defendant?
A plaintiff files a civil case and must produce evidence to prove the truth of the claim against a defendant. Defendants have a right to counterclaim and make a claim against a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. It then becomes the defendant’s burden to prove the truth of its claim against a plaintiff.
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