Many of us usually have no experience with the justice system until we become the plaintiff in a civil case. This can be due to an injury or accident that was the fault of another party. Now, you must seek damages for those injuries.
This can be a confusing process but one that is important to understand as you make your way toward resolving your case.
Below, we’ll look at the differences between a plaintiff vs. a defendant in a civil case and how each one has different responsibilities during litigation.
What is a Plaintiff?
A plaintiff in a civil case is the individual or entity that files a lawsuit against another individual or entity.
So, who is the plaintiff in a civil case? A civil plaintiff can be a person, such as yourself. A plaintiff can also be an entity, such as a corporation, that files a lawsuit against another company.
A plaintiff must file a lawsuit to begin legal proceedings. To file, a plaintiff and their attorney will generally file a complaint and summons with the appropriate court.
A civil complaint filed by the plaintiff informs another individual or entity that they are taking legal action against them. It also informs that person or entity of the claims against them.
A civil complaint will include facts and reasons for the legal action, what compensation is claimed, and under what legal justification that compensation can be made.
The person or entity named in the civil complaint is known as the defendant. In the next section, we’ll answer who is the defendant in a case.
What is a Defendant in Court?
The defendant in a civil case is the person or entity named in the civil complaint filed by the plaintiff as the party who allegedly committed some type of wrongdoing.
There can be multiple defendants named in one complaint. However, this is only allowed if the complaint stems from the same incident. If multiple people were involved in the same incident, they can all be named as defendants in the complaint.
It’s not uncommon in civil personal injury cases for multiple defendants to be named in the same complaint. For example, suppose a plaintiff suffered injuries at a business. In that case, they may name the business owners, the management company that was running the business at the time of the incident, and the property owners.
Plaintiff vs. Defendant: What’s the Difference?
Now that you understand the difference between a plaintiff and a defendant in a civil case, it’s essential to know how these two parties interact as they move through the justice system.
The plaintiff is the one who initiates litigation by submitting a complaint to the appropriate court. The defendant is the party that then must answer the complaint and defend themselves.
The defendant does this by answering each issue in the complaint line-by-line with their version of events and facts.
As the case progresses, both sides may present or claim various evidence to support their version of events and how that relates to the lawsuit.
However, this is where one of the most significant differences between a plaintiff and a defendant exists. While each can provide proof or evidence, the burden of proof is always on the plaintiff.
The burden of proof means that the plaintiff must prove their case beyond a certain legal threshold.
In civil cases, this threshold is considered to be 51%. That means that the plaintiff must show that there is a greater than 50% likelihood that their version of events is how things actually played out.
This threshold is also known as the preponderance of evidence. This means that a majority of the evidence favors the plaintiff.
It’s important to note that not all evidence must favor the plaintiff. Parts of the defendant’s case may still be true. However, 51% or more of the evidence supporting the plaintiff is enough for a favorable judgment.
Criminal cases have a different burden of proof requirement. In criminal cases, the state, who is the plaintiff in the case, must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crimes accused.
In this case, “reasonable” refers to what a typical, rational, and unbiased person would believe if presented with the facts of the case.
For example, if a defendant had a so-called “airtight” alibi showing they were in a different location when the crime occurred, that is enough to introduce reasonable doubt.
Even if other evidence was compelling, if the defendant was not at the crime scene, there is reasonable doubt that he could have committed the crime.
Of course, this is a simplified example, and many other things introduce reasonable doubt. This is often at the center of most criminal defense cases.
Civil Case Outcomes
Now, we come to the final stage of a criminal or civil case. This is the outcome or how it may be resolved. There are several options for both civil and criminal cases, and each has its own definition and results.
This happens when a judge throws out all or a portion of the case brought by the plaintiff. If the judge feels the plaintiff lacks sufficient evidence to prove their case, it will be dismissed to save time and resources.
The case can be dismissed with prejudice, which means the decision is final. Without prejudice means, if the complaint is altered or new evidence is presented, it may be refiled and reconsidered at a later time.
This can happen at any time, even up to the very last day before a trial in some cases. A settlement is an agreement between the plaintiff and defendant where they come to specific terms each agrees to, which then stops further litigation proceedings.
This usually involves a cash payout from the defendant. It also involves a promise from the plaintiff to agree that the matter is fully resolved. Often, the defendant avoids admitting fault in such defendant and plaintiff agreements.
This is when the case goes through the complete trial process and is ultimately decided by the judge or jury. The judge or jury can find in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant.
Criminal cases have similar outcomes to civil cases. The first is a dismissal, which is very similar to the outcome described above in civil cases.
Next, there is a plea bargain. You can think of this similarly to the settlement described above but with one key difference. When the defendant and the state come to an agreement, this usually involves some sort of reduced punishment. However, the defendant generally accepts and admits to at least one alleged crime.
In a civil settlement, the defendant does not have to admit fault if a settlement is agreed to.
Another option specific to a criminal case is that the defendant can simply plead guilty. This avoids further litigation or the need for a plea bargain. The next step would then be sentencing.
Understanding Your Options When Involved in a Civil Case
Understanding the entire process can be very confusing if you have found yourself as the plaintiff in a civil case after being injured or otherwise harmed by another party.
Many plaintiffs have questions about how long the process will take or how long it will be until they can access their settlement to help cover their expenses.
However, services and tools are available to qualified plaintiffs in civil cases to help them through this challenging time and make it easier to receive pre-settlement funding to cover their personal expenses while waiting for their settlement.
For those amid civil proceedings, there can be overwhelming stress and uncertainty. Oasis Financial is here to provide clarity during this often tangled journey by offering solutions that help secure peace of mind and a sense of security faster than ever before. Contact us today to get started!
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