Parties in a Civil Lawsuit

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 In most civil lawsuits, the plaintiff sues the defendant for money damages or other property. For example, if the defendant's car hits the plaintiff's car, the plaintiff could sue to recover money for damage to the car and for any personal injuries resulting from the collision. Another common type of civil lawsuit is to stop or restrain a person from doing something, such as trespassing on the plaintiff's property. Lawsuits based on breach of contract are also common.


The plaintiff is the person who begins a civil lawsuit by filing a complaint with the court clerk. The complaint is a statement of the claim the plaintiff is making against the defendant. The complaint includes the remedy the plaintiff is requesting. A summons, which is either delivered or mailed to the defendant, gives the defendant notice that a suit has been filed against him or her. A copy of the complaint is attached to the summons so the defendant knows why the plaintiff filed suit.


The defendant is the person defending the civil lawsuit. After receiving the summons and complaint, the defendant has a limited number of days (usually 20 to 30) to respond to the complaint by filing an answer with the court clerk. In the answer, the defendant admits or denied the plaintiff's allegations and gives any defenses that he or she has to the lawsuit.

Real Party in Interest

Court rules require that a lawsuit be brought in the name of the "real party in interest." This is the person or entity that will be directly benefited or injured by the outcome of the case. Put another way, the real party in interest is the person or entity that has the legal right to enforce the claim in dispute. For example, in a suit for damage to real property, the real party in interest is the person or persons who own or lease the property. A defendant has a right to have a lawsuit prosecuted by the real party in interest to avoid further action on the same demand by another person.

Capacity of Parties

The law holds that an infant and a person who is mentally infirm lack the capacity or capability to sue or be sued. Such persons are not considered by the law to be able to represent their interests in a lawsuit without the aid of another person.

Substitution of Parties

A new party can be joined or substituted if an existing party dies or becomes incompetent. Also, if a lawsuit involves a public official and the official dies or leaves office, his or her successor can be substituted as a party.

Questions for Your Attorney:

  • Do I always need an attorney in a civil trial?
  • Is there a minimum amount of money that's at stake for a lawsuit in civil court?
  • Who else will I meet in civil court? Will there be a jury?
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