Understanding What We Do: What Is Plaintiff Litigation & Why Is It Important?

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Posted on Thursday, August 24th, 2023 at 5:00 pm    

What is litigation?

In legal terms, litigation is resolving disputes via the public court system. Any legal proceeding—whether that is a criminal lawsuit, a civil lawsuit, or a bankruptcy case—is a type of litigation. 

Although often used interchangeably, litigation is not the same as a lawsuit. The term litigation refers to resolving disputes via the legal system, while a lawsuit is the specific legal action brought by a plaintiff against a defendant. For example, in the context of mass torts, each individual plaintiff has their own lawsuit. But each lawsuit is part of a larger litigation about the same alleged defective product or wrongful conduct. 

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. Photograph by Pixabay.

The U.S. court system is divided into federal and state courts. Federal courts, which include the Supreme Court, the courts of appeals, and the District Courts, oversee cases concerning federal law, disputes between states, constitutionality, bankruptcy, and other country-level concerns. 

While the setup of state courts depends on the state, they generally include a state supreme or high court, a court of appeals, and a variety of trial courts. They oversee suits, including most criminal cases, tort or personal injury cases, family law cases, and cases involving state laws or constitutions. 

In the State of Illinois, most cases begin in the 25 judicial circuits (also known as trial courts) across the state. Appeal cases proceed to the Appellate Court, which is divided into five districts. The Illinois Supreme Court, which consists of seven justices, provides the final judgment on state law. Look up the organization of your state’s court system here. 

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is the third-largest district court in the country. Photograph by Carol Highsmith, U.S. States District Court website.

Understanding legal terms

Both criminal and civil cases involve a plaintiff (or suing party) and a defendant (or party responding to the complaint). In a civil case, the plaintiff is the person filing the lawsuit, while the defendant is the party against whom the suit is filed. Plaintiffs bring lawsuits in civil court because they believe they have been harmed by the defendant physically, financially, or otherwise. 

Defendants can be business interests, individuals, hospitals, insurance companies, nonprofits, or government organizations. In some cases, many plaintiffs claim that the same defendant or group has harmed them. Cases like these may be filed via a class action lawsuit or consolidated into a mass tort. 


Criminal Cases

Photograph by Pixabay.

Criminal cases operate differently from civil cases in several ways. The plaintiff in a criminal case is the State representing the victim (often called “The People” in official documents). At the same time, the defendant is the person or organization being accused of a crime.  

Civil and criminal cases also differ in how they handle the burden of proof, how much evidence is required to prove wrongdoing, and who is responsible for providing it. In a criminal case, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed what they are being accused of. In a civil lawsuit, on the other hand, the plaintiff and the plaintiff’s lawyer must provide a preponderance of evidence—meaning showing that something is more likely true than it is not true—to prove that the defendant is at fault. This usually means it is easier to meet the burden of proof in a civil case. 

Why is the plaintiff important in the law process?

Under our legal system, individuals can seek compensation for damages. These damages may include physical harm, medical expenses, loss of wages, or emotional distress, and lawsuits can also be filed for people who died due to harmful actions.  

Plaintiffs sue for financial compensation, but that’s not all there is to it. Many plaintiffs file claims not only to be compensated for the wrong done against them but also to find answers and prevent the same thing from happening to others. 

At Wallace Miller, we understand that there is more than money at stake in these cases. When someone suffers harm due to fraud or negligence, they often feel ignored, disrespected, or erased. Through the legal process, our attorneys can help plaintiffs pursue justice, achieve some measure of recompense, and prevent the harm from happening again.  

What is a plaintiff’s attorney?

A plaintiff’s attorney, or plaintiff’s lawyer, is simply the individual representing the plaintiff. However, the term is commonly used to refer to an attorney who specializes in representing plaintiffs’ claims against larger interests such as insurance companies, corporations, or hospitals. 

Photograph by Pixabay.

Wallace Miller focuses on this area of the law to make a positive difference in the lives of those who have been wronged. By taking on cases in consumer protection, product liability, employment, environmental and toxic harm, and personal injury, we protect the rights of victims of negligence, fraud, and other wrongdoing. 

The defense attorney or the individual representing the party being sued is on the other side of the lawsuit. The term is also often used for lawyers who specialize in representing defendants. Large companies may have a team of defense attorneys on staff responsible for handling suits brought against them. 

How do plaintiff’s attorneys get paid?

Because they are bringing the suit, plaintiffs and plaintiffs’ attorneys are the active parties in beginning a claim. Depending on the nature of the case, plaintiff lawyers are often paid via a contingency model, meaning they don’t charge their clients anything during the legal process. In these circumstances, the attorneys initially pay out-of-pocket all necessary litigation expenses—including travel expenses for deposition, expert reviews and analyses, testimonies, documentation, records, and court filing fees. Then, if a settlement or verdict is awarded, the attorneys are reimbursed for those expenses and receive a percentage of the award amount as their fee. If a plaintiff doesn’t receive compensation, the attorney doesn’t get paid, and they do not get reimbursed for the expenses they paid out-of-pocket on the case. 

This means that the plaintiff’s attorneys take a financial risk in filing lawsuits. Experienced attorneys are experts at assessing the risk of a given claim and can help the plaintiff understand the situation accurately. Still, there is never a guarantee of a positive case outcome. This system allows average people to access the justice system without paying expensive attorney fees upfront. 

What is the role of a plaintiff lawyer?

In a civil case, the plaintiffs’ lawyers are responsible for representing the plaintiff(s) and fighting for justice on their behalf. Their end goal is to help the plaintiff receive compensation for damages caused by the defendant(s). 

During this process, they research the plaintiffs’ specific situation and the case in general. They build plaintiff files, gather and present convincing evidence, retain expert witnesses, and prepare documents for the court.  

Photograph by Pixabay.

Many cases settle out of court, and in these situations, the lawyer’s goal is to achieve the best compensation possible for their clients. The plaintiff’s lawyer may represent the individual in court if a complaint goes to trial before a judge and jury.  

On a societal level, plaintiffs’ lawyers can also use their skills to hold powerful parties accountable. When the actions of a person, corporation, nonprofit, or government organization cause harm to a large number of people, plaintiffs’ attorneys may represent them in a class action or a mass tort. This not only allows the people harmed to receive some compensation but also discourages these organizations from committing the same harmful actions in the future.  

Wallace Miller: Your plaintiff lawyers

We know that you have many options when considering a legal claim. Our passionate attorneys and professionals have dedicated their careers to pursuing challenging cases and fighting on behalf of consumers, individuals, classes of people, and small businesses against some of the largest companies in the world.  

Left to right: Nicholas P. Kelly, Edward A. Wallace, Molly Condon Wells, Mark R. Miller, Jessica Wieczorkiewicz, Timothy E. Jackson.

The attorneys at Wallace Miller have more than 75 years of cumulative experience in the law and have won millions in recovery and settlements. Our firm is nationally recognized, and we are frequently appointed by federal and state courts to serve in leadership positions. Most importantly, we are committed to obtaining justice for each and every one of our clients. 

If you think you may have a claim against a business, corporation, organization, or any other group or would like to discuss your options, reach out to our firm today at (312) 261-6193 or fill out our online questionnaire for a free and confidential assessment in minutes. 

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