It is common to find legal jargon particularly complex. Whether you have previously been involved with a lawsuit or this is your first go-around, you should not feel discouraged if you do not understand the “legalese” your attorney is speaking.
One of the top terms individuals confuse are “plaintiffs” and “defendants.” Understanding the difference between a plaintiff and a defendant is crucial if you are a part of any legal proceeding. However, the answer is not always as simple. The type of case you are involved in could mean plaintiffs and defendants have different meanings.
Plaintiff vs. Defendant
There are differences between plaintiffs and defendants when dealing with different types of legal issues. The two primary types of legal cases clients may deal with are civil and criminal claims.
In a civil lawsuit, the plaintiff refers to the individual or entity that files a civil action against another party. The individual or entity being sued by the plaintiff is known as the defendant. For example, if Michael was hit by a drunk driver and ultimately filed a civil lawsuit against a drunk driver, Michael would be considered the plaintiff, and the drunk driver would be the defendant.
In civil claims, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show that the defendant is responsible for causing injuries or damages. They will need to introduce compelling evidence that convinces the jury that the defendant is more likely than not responsible for their accident or resulting injuries.
Generally, in naming civil claims, the plaintiff’s name will come first, followed by the defendant’s name second. An example could be Adams (Plaintiff) v. Johnson (Defendant).
In criminal cases, the plaintiff is the state prosecuting attorney. They are filing criminal charges against another party, known as the defendant. When someone is accused of committing a crime, they can be charged criminally.
The burden of proof is supposed to be on the state to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. However, often, many defendants wind up having to prove their innocence or face a conviction.
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How Can You Remember Differences Between Defendants and Plaintiffs?
It is normal to confuse the difference between plaintiffs and defendants. However, if you are involved in a civil or criminal case, ensure you understand which is which. You can try to remember that plaintiffs are typically the ones who have suffered.
In contrast, defendants are the ones who have to defend themselves against accusations of criminal activity or liability.
What Is the Burden of Proof?
As previously mentioned, the burden of proof for plaintiffs and defendants can vary, depending on the legal issue they are involved in. In civil cases, the burden of proof is based on a preponderance of the evidence, while criminal cases require guilt to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
In a civil claim, the plaintiff must show that the defendant is more likely than not responsible for causing injuries or damages due to the defendant’s negligent conduct. In a criminal case, the state must introduce evidence that proves the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise, the jury is required to find the defendant not guilty.
Are There Other Essential Legal Terms?
In addition to the terms plaintiff and defendant, there are likely other legal phrases and expressions you should be aware of, whether you are dealing with a civil lawsuit or criminal case. Here are some of the essential legal terms you should know before your case goes to trial:
Appeals are available in both civil and criminal court. Here, the plaintiff or defendant can challenge the court’s decision to get the decision modified or overturned.
By filing an appeal with the appellate court, the plaintiff or defendant has a second chance to obtain a favorable outcome. The person responding to the appeal is the appellee, whereas the person filing the appeal is called the appellate.
If you are dealing with a civil case, contributory negligence has likely come up. This refers to how the case will be handled if the plaintiff shares liability for their injuries or damages. Every state has different contributory negligence laws in place.
Some follow pure contributory negligence, which means plaintiffs who share faults are prohibited from proceeding with their case. Others follow pure comparative negligence or modified comparative negligence laws.
Here, sharing liability does not necessarily mean you are prohibited from recovering compensation. In pure comparative negligence states, you can recover compensation for your damages no matter how much fault you share.
In modified comparative negligence states, if your portion of liability exceeds the state limit, you no longer have the right to move forward with your case. However, in comparative negligence states, plaintiffs can expect their injury settlements to be reduced proportionally.
Counterclaims most commonly happen in bankruptcy and civil claims. Here, if you were filing a civil lawsuit as the plaintiff, the defendant has the authority to file a counterclaim against you, seeking compensation for their damages.
Counterclaims are also seen in bankruptcy court. However, instead of being referred to as plaintiffs and defendants, the person declaring bankruptcy is known as the debtor, while the person filing a counterclaim against the debtor is referred to as a creditor.
Economic damages refer to the financial losses plaintiffs are entitled to recover as part of their civil claims. They have fixed monetary values and are easily calculated.
They can be verified through financial records, bank statements, receipts, quotes, and other financial documentation. Examples of economic damages could include:
- Lost wages
- Property damages
- Medical bills
Non-economic damages refer to how the plaintiff’s life has been affected by their injuries or the defendant’s actions. These do not have a set financial value, and lawyers must quantify them to ensure their clients seek maximum compensation for their suffering.
Examples of non-economic damages could include:
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Reduced quality of life
- Loss of consortium
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Understanding the legal terminology associated with your case is crucial so you can plan accordingly. Now that you better understand how plaintiffs differ from defendants, you can work closely with your attorney to resolve your legal matter.
If you have an anticipated settlement, you can get an advance on your funds when you contact our loan specialists at Silver Dollar Financial for help today. Complete our online contact form, apply now, or call our office to learn more about what is next for your lawsuit loan.