Plaintiffs sitting in courtroom during trial. Plaintiffs sitting in courtroom during trial.

What Are the Rights of Plaintiffs in A Civil Trial in US?

I see many of my colleagues producing plaintiffs in the court – and some of us lawyers also have qualms about how our plaintiff have been treated. But I will tell you this depending on the nature of the case, a plaintiff may or may not be someone who has been alleged to have caused some criminal act.

So, in our legal system, a civil or criminal act decides it.

To make it clear, when a reference is made to a federal civil case, it means the case involves a legal dispute between two or more parties, who can either be individuals or businesses, over money or any other injury that is suffered because of the infringement of personal rights.

Generally, a civil action is initiated when a party to a dispute files a complaint or a suit, followed by the completing payment of the filing fee as reiterated by the said statute.

Any plaintiff, that is deemed as a pauper, “is a person who is unable to pay the fee has the right to file a request to proceed in “forma pauperis”, post receiving the assent of which by the court, the fee may be waived off.

Explaining briefly, a civil case is put in motion when either a person or corporate, also known as a “plaintiff” puts forth the claim of having been harmed by the actions of another person or corporation, known as the “defendant“.

I will tell you how the process works. The plaintiff starts the trial of a case by instituting a document in the court of law, that puts forth the plaintiff’s facts and theories pertaining to the law as well as makes a request for obtaining relief, hence such a compilation of information is known as a “complaint”. In the complaint, the plaintiff might:

  • Seek the court’s assistance pertaining to the “damages,” meaning the compensation that needs to be paid to the plaintiff for any harm suffered.
  • Take the support of the court for granting an “injunction,” which refers to an order extended by the court that prevents the defendant from either doing something or slashing down the action of the defendant.
  • Put before the court, to give a “declaratory judgment,” referring to an order of the court that states the obligations of the parties under a contract or statute.

Post the aforementioned, a panel of judges or the expert jury will determine the facts of the case which refers to the description of the series of events that led to the filing and initiation of the suit and then apply the appropriate law to those facts to reach a conclusion.

Based on their scrutinization of the law and facts, the judge or jury will proceed ahead to make a concluding judgment that is generally referred to as a “decision” or “order” which is brought to light for making an official statement on what sort of consequences shall arise from the parties’ actions.

In certain other cases, the parties involved in a dispute resolve the aforementioned themselves, meaning that at any time during the proceeding of their case, the parties can agree to settle their disputes to reach a consensus for avoiding the procedure of a trial and the risk of losing. So, a settlement generally involves the payment of money which can be moulded to obtain a result through an enforceable judgment.

Photo by 72soul from unlimphotos

1. I will tell you what you need to know

I just told you that the legal system deals with two types of lawsuits, which are civil and criminal.

Referring to a criminal case is when someone is charged with a crime followed by the prosecution of the same by the government.

All the other cases, like those that are not criminal as aforesaid, are known as civil lawsuits. From the breach of contract, personal injury, divorce proceedings, and child custody cases, to lawsuits filed against government officials and agencies, the arena of civil cases is termed to be an expansive category.

If any individual wishes to pursue a case involving animals, that is an animal lawsuit instituted by a person and not a government, such as when someone is charged with animal cruelty, it shall be considered a civil suit.

1.1 The General Stages of A Civil Trial 

  1. The plaintiff institutes a complaint for the initiation of a suit. 
  2. The defendant, post the plaintiff’s bit, goes to institute an answer pertaining to the said complaint.
  3. A judgement outlining a timeline for important dates and deadlines, inclusive of when the trial shall commence will be issued by the said judge.
  4. After the schedule of the dates has been dictated, the parties engage in the stage of discovery.
  5. The aforesaid is followed by the filing of, if any motions and other pleadings, as required.
  6. The next level refers to the selection of a jury only after which a trial takes place.
  7. As the trial reaches its end, a decision is granted by the judge or the jury.
  8. Post the declaration of judgment, either party has the right to appeal the decision, however, if a party is still dissatisfied with the decision of the appellate court, they are allowed to proceed ahead and ask for further appellate reviewing.

Plaintiff vs Defendant, What is their role?!

1.2 The Process

Beginning from the basics, the first step to initiate a civil proceeding in federal court is for the plaintiff to file a complaint in the court of law followed by serving a copy of the same, which is the complaint to the defendant.

From putting ahead, the damage or injury incurred by the Plaintiff, how the defendant caused the said harm, and whether the court has the jurisdiction to ask the court to order relief, the complaint describes each section in detail.

In such a case, the court has the right to either compensate the plaintiff with the amount they incurred for the damages or put forth an order for the plaintiff that the defendant must stop the kind of conduct that is causing such harm.

On the same lines, the judiciary is not just restricted to the above, but can also make a judgment pertaining to other types of relief, which is inclusive of a declaration of the legal rights of the plaintiff in a particular situation.

1.3 Case Preparation

In this stage, known as the Discovery, litigants are to provide adequate information to each other, that is the opposition about the case that includes the identity of witnesses as well as the copies of any documents pertaining to the said case.

The crux of the discovery stage is based upon the premise to set up a trial by having the litigants assemble their evidence and prepare themselves for bringing the witnesses.

Known as motions the litigants are allowed to file for such requests, with the court of law that seek judgements on the presentation of evidence, or on the procedures that must be adhered to in the due course of a trial.

The discovery stage generally deals with the working of the witnesses. It comprises the process of a deposition which requires a witness to answer questions about the case prior to the trial under oath as well as in the presence of a court reporter, who produces a word-for-word report also known as a transcript.   

A Civil Lawsuit Explained in Steps | The Civil Litigation Process

1.4 Settling Differences

As an attempt to omit any sort of delay or heavy expenses, the court of law encourages the litigants to pursue out-of-court methods such as mediation, arbitration, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution in reaching a consensus, that resolves their dispute.

Designed to present solutions pertaining to a dispute without having the need to resort to a trial or other court proceedings, the concept of Alternative Dispute Resolution, is a method gaining attention. As a result, the litigants often give consent for making a “settlement.”

If due to circumstances, a settlement is not reached, then the judiciary schedules a trial. In a wide variety of civil cases, the parties can either request for a jury trial as per their rights declared in the Constitution, or waive off the right for aforementioned, which leads a judge to hear the case without a jury.

1.5 Trial Process

It is the rule of evidence that is applied by the court of law to determine what sort of information may be presented before them in the courtroom. Such as provision also allows the witnesses the right to speak freely, presenting information extending from their own knowledge and deterring from changing their stance on the basis of the testimony given by other said witnesses as they are kept separately, out of the courtroom until they testify.

Two of the judicial authorities serve as highly responsible for making sure a proceeding is conducted smoothly, the first of whom is a court reporter, an individual who keeps an account of the proceedings of a trial, and the second is a deputy clerk of the court, accountable for keeping a journal of each person who testifies, as well as for safeguarding any documents, photographs, or other items introduced as evidence.

As seen quite commonly, the attorney of the opposition has the right to object to any question asked to the witness that is not just out of the knowledge inventory of the aforementioned, but also that serves to be irrelevant for the development of the case. For the same, it is at the judge’s discretion to either overrule, sustain, or allow such an objection.

In a case where the objection is sustained, the witness is not required to acknowledge or answer the asked question and it is ideal for the attorney to move on to the next question. The court reporter records such objections for the court’s reference if a review of the argument deems necessary.

1.6 Closing

Arriving at the last leg of a proceeding is the part where litigants are to present a closing statement post the hearing.

Speaking of a case which is to be decided by a jury, first, the judge will be explaining explain the appropriate law that is applicable to the case and post that, the jury is required to come upon a decision. From determining whether the defendant is responsible for causing damages and injury to the plaintiff to analyzing the compensation amount that the defendant will be required to pay, it is the duty of the jury to provide answers to these requirements.

In cases where a case is tried before a judge, not in the presence of a jury, which is known as the trial by the “bench”, it is the responsibility of the judge to decide the issues in the said dispute followed by ordering a type of relief to the aggrieved party as they deem fit.

Hence, to speak in a nutshell, once the trial reaches its saturation point, having given some time to think through their opinions, the judge or jury shall then be rendering their “decision” or “verdict.” Such judgements will focus on whether the defendant is found to be legally liable, and if so is put forth, then the remedy to fix the said damages must also be discussed and reported.

1.7 Appeal

Post a judgement given by the inferior courts, if either litigant is dissatisfied with the order, then that party to a civil suit may appeal the decision deduced by a judge or jury to a higher court, which is known as the court of appeals that serves as the first level of appeal. The appellate court, under this process, is required to analyze whether the lower court made an error of law or procedure which lead to the said judgement made by the aforesaid.

It is essential to highlight that the Courts of Appeals are only accountable for examining the report of the judgement provided by the lower court and not to conduct a fresh trial comprising witnesses and new evidence. I don’t know how many recent law students get confused on that.

The second, and last court of appeals, also known as the court of last resort, is the Supreme Court, which is also vested with powers to review judgements but holds a discretionary view pertaining to the same, meaning that they can take up a case but are not obligated to do so.

1.8 Writ Of Certiorari to the Supreme Court

I am sure you already know this. But I will still repeat this for those who are just starting to learn law. A“writ of certiorari” that is made to the Supreme Court” requests the United States Supreme Court to consider a case. As the U.S. Supreme Court is not obligated to hear such cases, it is essential for such a writ to be filed, for the case to come to the light. Only very few cases are taken up by the court, in fact only those cases which involve important issues of federal law are captured by the Supreme Court.

2. Types of Cases In Civil Court

Comprising a wide range of cases, the civil courts deal with sectors of issues as mentioned below:

2.1 Tort Claims-

Like, seriously, all of us know it. This is taught in the first year of any law course. And interestingly, something I found that doesn’t hold as much relevance today as I would want. Also known as a “tortious” act, a “tort” is a wrongful act that causes damage to someone’s, property, reputation, or in any way, for which the injured person has the right to seek compensation. Comprising of personal injury, battery, negligence, defamation, medical negligence, fraud, and many others, are all examples of a “tort”.

2.2 Breach of Contract Claims-

Resulting from a person’s failure to perform certain aspects of a contract, whether the contract is, written or verbal, and having no legitimate legal excuse for abrogating the said duties, is how a breach of contract arises. Lawsuits for not completing a job, not paying in full or on time, failing to deliver goods sold or promised, etc are ideal examples of breach of contract.

2.3 Equitable Claims-

 An “equitable claim” generally refers to seeking the court’s aid for an order either to take an action or stop an action against a party. It might be annexed with a claim for money as well. Cases where a court passes an order to restrict the destruction of property, the sale of land, or the marketing to a business’s customers are such illustrations of the aforementioned.

2.4 Landlord-Tenant Claims-

Cases where a landlord is trying to have a tenant removed from their property, or where a tenant has moved out and is suing a landlord for the return of a security deposit, etc are types of issues dealt with in the civil court that arises between aforementioned parties such as landlord and tenants. 

3. The Civil Case Outcomes

3.1 Dismissal –

When all or a section of the case has been dismissed due to the fact that evidence or testimony provided by State or Plaintiff does not suffice in proving their case, is called a dismissal. Civil cases can be dismissed with prejudice, referring to passing the final judgement, or without prejudice, meaning the case in hand can be reconsidered.

3.2 Settlement – 

Known as an official agreement which outlines a particular monetary amount or a specific act that not only satisfies the issue of the dispute but also leads the litigants into consensus, is called a settlement. It is essential to put forth that this agreement remains under confidentiality at all costs and that the alleged at-fault individual or entity is not obligated to admit fault of any by executing a settlement.

3.3 Judgement in Favour of the Plaintiff/Defendant – 

When a judgment is entered in support of either the Plaintiff or Defendant by a jury or judge then it is understood that the aforesaid has gained victory in the said dispute. An essential component to focus on here is, when a Plaintiff has a judge rule in their favour, the aforesaid has attained the said monetary amount or a specific act whereas when a judgment is inclined towards the Defendant, it refers to the idea that the Defendant was not held responsible.

Roles of Judge and Jury

From focusing on what a civil case is, and the stages of such proceedings to understanding the types of civil cases as well as the civil trial outcomes, understanding the role the plaintiff plays in such a civil proceeding marks it essential for any litigant who is the path to pursue such a trial.”

To appeal, to pray for compensation for the damages extended towards the plaintiff, or to have the defendant stop their action that is causing the harm, are the rights of a plaintiff that they can ask the court of law to support with appropriate evidence.

Last Updated on April 6, 2024 by soubhik


Varenya Vaish
  1. Great breakdown of plaintiff rights! Understanding these rights is crucial for anyone navigating the legal system.

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