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The Role of the Plaintiff

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In civil disputes and proceedings, the person who initiates the lawsuit or legal action is known as the plaintiff. In some jurisdictions, the plaintiff may also be referred to as a claimant or a complainant. The plaintiff is the party who has been wronged by another and seeks either monetary restitution or a specific performance judgment. The person who is being sued is known as the defendant.

The plaintiff and the defendant are the backbone of the adversarial system of justice used in the United States. This system pits one party against another in which each asserts contradictory positions before an impartial judge and possibly a jury as well.

In contrast to civil proceedings, criminal proceedings are initiated by some government authority, either at the local, state or federal level. In criminal cases, the government is called the prosecution, rather than the plaintiff. The person being prosecuted is still known as the defendant.

Civil disputes can arise from countless circumstances. Most involve the plaintiff or complainant seeking to recover monetary damages from the defendant. These cases can stem from personal injury claims, medical malpractice, investment fraud, business partnership disputes and myriad other instances. In these types of civil cases, the plaintiff will attempt to recover costs for medical bills and lost wages resulting from a personal injury caused by the defendant or malpractice by a doctor, money lost due to investment fraud and so on.

In other civil disputes, such as breaches of contract, the plaintiff may sue for a specific performance from the defendant. For example, if one person agrees to sell a parcel of land to another party at an agreed upon price, then later either refuses to sell after the contract has been finalized or tries to change the terms of the contract, the buyer can sue to force the seller to uphold his part of the agreement. This can also be an effective remedy for a contractor who has not completed the work he was contracted to do in a timely manner. In these examples, monetary damages are not sought or awarded.

Whether you are entering a civil dispute as a plaintiff or complainant or on the other side as a defendant, it is a good idea to have a civil attorney on your side. Having someone who can advise you of your rights and handle the complexities of the legal system as well as the time-consuming procedures of a civil case is an invaluable asset.

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