What does it mean to be party to a lawsuit? In a lawsuit, a plaintiff claims to have been injured by the wrongful conduct of a defendant. A defendant is a party being sued by a plaintiff in a civil case. In some courts and cases, a defendant may be called a respondent. An attorney is a person who practices law and is appointed to act for another party in a business or legal matter.

Who Are the Parties in a Civil Lawsuit?

A party in a civil lawsuit may refer to an entity or person that's involved in an agreement or a frequent reference by attorneys to entities or people involved in transactions, lawsuits, accidents, or contract.

A civil lawsuit is an adversarial proceeding among or between two or more parties who carry competing interests. The plaintiff is the party that brings the lawsuit to court. The defendant is the party that's sued by the plaintiff.

A counterclaim occurs when a defendant brings a claim against the plaintiff. When this happens, the defendant becomes a "counter-plaintiff" with regard to the counterclaim created against the plaintiff. Parties include the:

  • Respondent: Commonly in opposition to an appeal or petition
  • Petitioner: Files a petition requesting a court ruling
  • Cross-complainant: A defendant that sues another party in the same lawsuit
  • Cross-defendant: A party sued by the cross-complainant

When the counter-defendant or defendant conclude that a third party is legally responsible for the claim brought against them, the defendant will most likely escort the third party into the lawsuit as a third-party defendant. For example, in a workers' compensation case if the employee get injured in a forklift accident they may file a workers' compensation claim against the employer and the forklift manufacturer. Workers' compensation laws usually don't permit the worker to file a personal injury lawsuit against the employer, but they may sue other entities or at-fault persons. The injured party can be awarded compensation for future and past:

  • Lost wages
  • Medical expenses
  • Suffering and pain
  • Disability
  • Disfigurement

Are the Proper Parties Named?

In order to have a legitimate lawsuit, the correct parties must be named. The party that brings the suit must seek relief from the "real" party in interest. In cases where a minor is involved, the suit must be initiated by a party of legal age who has received the proper authority to sue on behalf of the minor. Usually, this party will be a "next friend" or a guardian. If the person bringing suit:

  • Is deemed incompetent, the suit must be initiated by their guardian
  • Cannot prove their legal capacity, the suit will be dismissed

Problems may occur with respect to identifying the proper party when a plaintiff sues a business. For example, the business may have a "doing business as" name, but that description may not be the same as the legal name of the business (e.g., XYZ LLC, doing business as EZ Auto Repair).

In this scenario, the plaintiff will need to research the state and local business registration databases to figure out the legal business name of the party that should be held accountable. The legal business name must be recovered in order to file suit, because an entity that doesn't bear a legal liability cannot be held liable.

Parties and the Burden of Proof

Once all the required parties are brought together, the case may move forward with the preliminary proceeding and pre-trial discovery, with the trial immediately following. A moving party is the party that has filed a motion with a court. The plaintiff, or moving party, is responsible for proving all of the elements of their claim(s).

It's also the burden of proof that the defendant must prove mitigating circumstances or affirmative defenses in criminal or civil court. In civil court, aggravating circumstances also only have to be proven by a preponderance of the evidence, as opposed to beyond reasonable doubt (as they do in criminal court). This means that judge or jury must conclude that it is more likely than not that a particular event occurred. The defendant must prove to the judge or jury that the plaintiff's claim(s) lack merit. If the defendant fails to do this they will most likely lose the case.

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