2. Who are the “parties” to a lawsuit?
A lawsuit involves (or may involve) the following parties:
• Plaintiff – The plaintiff is the party (individual or business) who files the action claiming that she has suffered a wrong at the hands of the defendant. Basically, the plaintiff is the individual suing or bringing a civil action against someone else.
⁃ Discussion: Compare the plaintiff in a civil case to the prosecutor in a criminal case. Note: In criminal law, there is no plaintiff. The State (represented by the district attorney, a prosecutor) brings charges against a criminal defendant.
• Defendant – The defendant is the party being sued in the civil action. More specifically, a defendant is a party named by the plaintiff in the formal complaint filed with the court. Often times, the plaintiff will name multiple defendants. In some cases, each defendant’s conduct may subject her to potential liability independently of other defendants. In other cases, the collective actions of multiple individuals may subject them to liability collectively.
⁃ Discussion: Compare the defendant in a civil case to the defendant in a criminal case. Note, in criminal law the person being prosecuted is also called the defendant.
• Counterclaim – A counterclaim is a claim by a named defendant against the plaintiff. The defendant alleges that the plaintiff is responsible for some loss or harm she has suffered. A counterclaim by the defendant against the plaintiff does not have to be related in any way to the claims alleged by the plaintiff against the defendant. This all happens within the same court case. In this situation, the defendant or “counter-plaintiff” is the one bringing the counterclaim against the original plaintiff or “counter-defendant”.
⁃ Discussion: What do you think is the benefit for the defendant of allowing him or her to make any claims back against the plaintiff in the legal action? Are there any advantages to the original plaintiff?
• Third-party Defendants – A third-party defendant is a party who is not initially named as a defendant in the plaintiff’s complaint but is added to the case by a defendant. Basically, a defendant makes a claim against a third party alleging that she should be brought into the litigation as a co-defendant.
⁃ Discussion: Why do you think that the rules of court procedure allow a defendant to add co-defendants to the lawsuit?
• Practice Question: David decides to sue Mary for destroying his lawn by pouring plant killer in a pattern spelling an offensive word. Mary was present at the time, but it was actually Mark who poured the chemical on David’s lawn. Mary was involved in the incident because she was angry at David for backing out of his agreement to sell her his car. What options exist for Mary in this situation?