Plaintiffs Vs Defendants | Differences Between These Two Legal Terms

Lawyers or law students are often mocked because of the difficult use of Legal Terms. To laymen, all the legal terms lawyers use are like a foreign language. Even these difficult terms have a technical term called Legalese or Legal Jargon.

In this article, we will talk about two often used legal terms Plaintiffs and Defendants, and the differences between these two legal terms.

Meaning of Plaintiffs

A plaintiff is a person who files a lawsuit. Anyone can be a plaintiff. It doesn’t matter that the plaintiff has to be the victim. Oftentimes, plaintiff and victim are mixed together. It is up to the court to decide who is the victim and who is entitled to something. Plaintiff can be an individual, group of people, or association. In divorce cases, the person filing the case is called Petitioner.

In civil cases, the person who files a lawsuit is called the plaintiff but in criminal cases, the person who files a case is called a complainant. Some of the civil cases involve personal injury cases, breach of contract, fraud, divorce, child support cases, etc. Some of the criminal cases are murder, assault, sexual assault, identity theft, etc.

The first thing a plaintiff does is draft a complaint and file it in court. It is the very first document of a case.

Meaning of Defendants

A defendant is a person against whom a lawsuit has been filed. The document previously filed by the plaintiff is sent to the defendant. This is called summon. In summon, the complaint copy of the plaintiff and specific requirements for the defendant to respond is attached.

In criminal cases, this person is still called the defendant.

Example of Plaintiff and Defendant

If you are still confused, then this example might help you.

Suppose, You (Tyler) and your friend (John) have a business. Your friend John started doing some fraudulent activities in the course of business. Now you want to sue John. The first thing you should do is draft a lawsuit and file it in court. Here you will be the plaintiff and John will be the defendant.

Here’s another scenario. Let’s say your wife is Laurie. She filed a divorce case against you. In this case, your wife is the plaintiff and you are the defendant. Sometimes, your wife might be referred to as Petitioner and you are the respondent. A divorce case is an exception.

Burden of Proof

One of the main differences between a plaintiff and a defendant is that the burden of proof is always on the plaintiff. In the above-mentioned scenario, you should prove the fraudulent activities done by John in the course of business. The reason behind this is to reduce false allegations.

Differences Between Plaintiff and Defendant

  1. A plaintiff sues and a defendant is being sued.
  2. The burden of proof is on Plaintiff.
  3. Usually, the name of the plaintiff is asserted first in a case. For example, John Doe v. Board of Education of Kansas. Here, John Doe is the plaintiff and the Board of Education of Kansas is the defendant.
  4. The sole purpose of the plaintiff is to prove his/her case and the defendant’s job is to defend the accusations bought by the plaintiff. Also, the defendant can put a counterclaim.

Other Terms

Appeals: When a case is appealed both the term Plaintiff and Defendant are hardly used. In appeal both the terms changed. The person who appeals in the higher court is called Appellant regardless of whether he was the plaintiff or defendant and the other party is called Appellee.

Counterclaim: When a defendant is sued, he can claim against the plaintiff as well. For example, Walter sues Jesse for $500. Now Jesse can claim that he has already paid Walter $400. This is called a counterclaim.

Leave a Comment