Legal terminology can be complicated and confusing unless you are a party in the justice system yourself. Ohio Legal Help seeks to make the justice system more accessible so that people feel empowered to resolve their legal problems. Our blog series, Legally Informed, will help you understand common terms used in the courtroom and cases.
Before we dive into the players in a lawsuit, read our first blog on the difference between a civil case and a criminal case. A civil case is a private dispute between two parties. A civil case is a lawsuit where usually an individual or business sues another to protect, enforce, or to be compensated for a violation of rights. In other words, the players could take the form of individuals, businesses, or even government entities.
There are always two main players most civil cases: the plaintiff and the defendant or respondent. A plaintiff is the person or party suing the defendant. The defendant (sometimes called the respondent) is the person or party being sued by the plaintiff. For example, if someone has a contract with a business and breaches (breaking or failing to observe a law or agreement) the contract, the business could file a lawsuit making them the plaintiff. The person who broke the contract would then be the defendant.
Sometimes there will be lawyers present for one or both parties in a civil case. There are times when it is especially important to hire a lawyer. You can learn more about when and how to hire a lawyer for a civil case here.
Another term that may come up in a lawsuit is a witness. A witness is someone who can back up your side of the story in court. Read how to select a witness, prepare them, and make sure they show up when you need them.
If you are headed to court for a hearing or trial, you may also encounter a judge or magistrate, a jury depending on the type of case, a bailiff, and a court reporter. The judge or magistrate will rule on issues of law and possibly decide on the verdict. The jury is selected from a pool of citizens, and they may render a verdict for one side or the other if there is a trial. The bailiff helps keep the trial running smoothly and will swear in anyone testifying under oath. The court reporter’s job is to record everything that is said during the trial. There are courtroom do’s and don’ts that are important to keep in mind should you have to go to court.
The courtroom itself can be intimidating and confusing, so it’s important to prepare before a trial or hearing. Making sure your side is heard is important, and you can learn more about knowing when and how to speak up in court. You can also learn about presenting evidence in court and proving to the judge why it matters.
Learning about the different players in a lawsuit can help you be better prepared no matter what side you are on.