The plaintiff in a lawsuit is the party who brings the lawsuit. Other words for plaintiff include complainant and petitioner. In criminal cases, the state is sometimes characterized as the plaintiff. In addition, in regulatory or civil lawsuits by the state, the named plaintiff will often be the head of the agency or department bringing the lawsuit, though the lawsuit is actually being brought by the entity as a whole.

The plaintiff is responsible for outlining the case he or she intends to prove against the defendant. This is generally done in the pleadings. A lawsuit begins when a plaintiff files the lawsuit or complaint and then has those pleadings served on the defendant. The pleadings must allege what the defendant did or failed to do that the plaintiff believes gives rise to a lawsuit between them. In addition to factual allegations about the defendant’s actions, the plaintiff needs to state the law that allows him or her to seek a remedy, as well as the remedy being sought. The defendant is then given an opportunity to answer the plaintiff’s allegations.

Burden of Proof

In an adversarial court system, like the U.S. court system, the burden of proof rests on the person bringing the complaint. For a civil complaint, the burden of proof is the preponderance of the evidence. Although courts are reluctant to quantify what terms like preponderance of the evidence mean, it is recognized as meaning that one party’s version seemed more likely than another party’s version. If there is a tie, then the benefit of the doubt should be given to the defendant, because the burden of proof rests upon the plaintiff, as the person bringing the claim. When the state is the plaintiff in a civil proceeding, the preponderance of the evidence standard still governs. However, when the state is the plaintiff in a criminal or quasi-criminal proceeding, then the criminal standard of proof, which is reasonable doubt, applies.

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