Plaintiff - Definition and Everything You Need to Know

George Simons

March 12, 2022

The plaintiff carries the burden of proof.

Summary: In a debt collection lawsuit, the plaintiff is the person or company that sues someone for a debt. Here's everything you need to know about plaintiffs.

A plaintiff is an individual or party that files a lawsuit. For example, in debt collection, the plaintiff is usually the creditor, debt collection company, organization, or any other entity the defendant owes money to. In this case, the defendant is the party being sued by the plaintiff.

Here's a hypothetical example:

John is two weeks behind on his credit card debt. The credit card company tries to contact John but fails to reach him. After numerous unsuccessful attempts, the credit card company sends John a letter notifying him that the debt will be sent to collections. Approximately 90 days after failing to hear back from John, the credit card company sells the debt to a debt collection company.

The debt collector then tries to recover the debt but also can't seem to reach an agreement with John. As a result, the debt collector then decides to file a lawsuit against John to recover the amount owed. In that case, the debt collector is the plaintiff, and John is the defendant.

The word plaintiff is closely related to complainant. In the legal sphere, plaintiff is used more often in civil cases such as personal injury, debt collection, breach of contract, etc. On the other hand, the word complaint is mostly used in criminal cases. This is because the person filing a criminal charge is considered to have a complaint against the defendant. For this reason, the former is often referred to as a complainant, meaning the person filing the complaint.

The plaintiff initiates the case with a Summons and Complaint

When the plaintiff wants to recover the debt you supposedly owe, they'll file a lawsuit against you in court. A lawsuit is usually the last resort when a debt collector or creditor fails to recover the amount owed. Before filing a lawsuit, the debt collector or creditor will attempt to contact you several times.

Unless you inform them that you don't wish to be contacted, the debt collector may still contact you regarding the debt. If you inform the debt collector or creditor to stop contacting you, they're legally required to cease the communication immediately.

They may contact you only when they want to inform you about the next course of legal action. In most cases, they'll let you know that they intend to file a lawsuit against you.

After filing the lawsuit, the plaintiff must serve the defendant with a court Summons and Complaint. The Summons notifies the defendant of the lawsuit, and the Complaint lists the specific accusations being made.

The burden of proof is on the plaintiff

As a defendant in a debt collection case, you may not be aware that you have the upper hand, even though it may not seem like it initially. This is because the plaintiff must prove that you actually owe them the debt in question to win the case. The requirement to prove the claims brought forth by the plaintiff is legally described as the burden of proof.

As the name suggests, it is often a burden the plaintiff carries when they file a lawsuit against the defendant. However, even though the plaintiff must prove that you owe the debt in question, they don't have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you owe the debt. Instead, they only need to convince the court that there's more than a 50% chance that you owe the debt.

However, the above requirement only applies in civil cases. In criminal cases, the plaintiff must prove to the judge or jury beyond reasonable doubt that the accused, in this case, the defendant, is guilty of the allegations tabled against them.

For example, in a civil case involving debt collection, the judge can rule in favor of the plaintiff if the defendant fails to honor a court Summons. Here's how this works.

How to respond to a debt collection lawsuit

The first step to responding to a debt collection lawsuit is drafting and filing a written Answer. In the Answer, you can respond to each allegations listed in the Complaint by:

  • Admitting: If you choose this option, you admit that the claims filed against you in the lawsuit are true.
  • Denying: You can also deny each claim in the lawsuit if they're untrue. For example, if the debtor claims that you owe them $5,000 but the amount is incorrect, you can deny that specific claim.
  • Claiming lack of knowledge: If you're not sure whether a certain allegation stated in the lawsuit is true or not, you can simply claim you don't know anything about it.

The burden of proof shifts back to the plaintiff when you deny the claim in whole or dispute parts of it. As a result, they'll have to prove that whatever allegations raised against you are true. For example, if they claim you owe $5000, they must prove that you indeed owe that amount.

Speaking of the burden of proof, the jury can easily rule in favor of the plaintiff if the defendant fails to perform certain court-ordered actions. For example, as the defendant, you shouldn't ignore the Summons or any other court order. When you ignore a court order in a debt collection lawsuit, the court will automatically rule in favor of the plaintiff.

This ruling will be passed whether or not you owe the debt. The reasoning is that ignoring a court order is as good as admitting guilt in such a case. It's also important to note that debt collection lawsuits are time-barred. For this reason, you must respond to the Summons and Complaint immediately.

SoloSuit can help you file an Answer in all 50 states.

The defendant has 14-30 days to respond

As a defendant, you have 14-30 days to respond to the Summons and Complaint. The deadline differs in each state. Failure to respond within the deadline is interpreted by the court as admission. In other words, if you don't respond with a written Answer, the court sees it as you agreeing with the allegations listed against you in the Complaint.

Finding an attorney to help you respond to the case can be challenging and cost more than the debt you owe. Luckily, you can represent yourself with the help of SoloSuit and draft a written Answer in less than 15 minutes. SoloSuit can also file the Answer in court for you and serve the plaintiff's attorney (a requirement).

Here's 6 tips for drafting an Answer to a debt lawsuit:

Key Takeaways

The plaintiff is the individual who files a lawsuit against the other party, usually referred to as the defendant.

The plaintiff doesn't need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant owes the debt. For instance, if the defendant fails to respond to the court Summons, the judge may rule in favor of the plaintiff regardless of the debt's validity.

Lastly, even though the plaintiff doesn't have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant owes the debt in question, they usually have a heavier burden of proof. This is because they must also address the defendant's affirmative defenses if raised in a debt collection lawsuit.

Use SoloSuit to make the right affirmative defense and win in court.

What is SoloSuit?

SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.

How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your answer. Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.

Respond with SoloSuit

"First time getting sued by a debt collector and I was searching all over YouTube and ran across SoloSuit, so I decided to buy their services with their attorney reviewed documentation which cost extra but it was well worth it! SoloSuit sent the documentation to the parties and to the court which saved me time from having to go to court and in a few weeks the case got dismissed!" – James


Get Started


We have answers.
Join our community of over 40,000 people.

You can ask your questions on the SoloSuit forum and the community will help you out. Whether you need help now or are just looking for support, we're here for you.


Ask a Question


>>Read the FastCompany article: Debt Lawsuits Are Complicated: This Website Makes Them Simpler To Navigate

>>Read the NPR story on SoloSuit: A Student Solution To Give Utah Debtors A Fighting Chance

How to answer a summons for debt collection in your state

Here's a list of guides for other states.

All 50 states.

Guides on how to beat every debt collector

Being sued by a different debt collector? Were making guides on how to beat each one.

Win against credit card companies

Is your credit card company suing you? Learn how you can beat each one.

Going to Court for Credit Card Debt — Key Tips

How to Negotiate Credit Card Debts

How to Settle a Credit Card Debt Lawsuit — Ultimate Guide

Get answers to these FAQs

Need more info on statutes of limitations? Read our 50-state guide.

Why do debt collectors block their phone numbers?

How long do debt collectors take to respond to debt validation letters?

What are the biggest debt collector companies in the US?

Is Zombie Debt Still a Problem in 2019?

SoloSuit FAQ

If a car is repossessed, do I still owe the debt?

Is Portfolio Recovery Associates Legit?

Is There a Judgment Against Me Without my Knowledge?

Should I File Bankruptcy Before or After a Judgment?

What is a default judgment?— What do I do?

Summoned to Court for Medical Bills — What Do I Do?

What Happens If Someone Sues You and You Have No Money?

What Happens If You Never Answer Debt Collectors?

What Happens When a Debt Is Sold to a Collection Agency

What is a Stipulated Judgment?

What is the Deadline for a Defendants Answer to Avoid a Default Judgment?

Can a Judgement Creditor Take my Car?

Can I Settle a Debt After Being Served?

Can I Stop Wage Garnishment?

Can You Appeal a Default Judgement?

Do I Need a Debt Collection Defense Attorney?

Do I Need a Payday Loans Lawyer?

Do student loans go away after 7 years? — Student Loan Debt Guide

Am I Responsible for My Spouses Medical Debt?

Should I Marry Someone With Debt?

Can a Debt Collector Leave a Voicemail?

How Does Debt Assignment Work?

What Happens If a Defendant Does Not Pay a Judgment?

How Does Debt Assignment Work?

Can You Serve Someone with a Collections Lawsuit at Their Work?

What Is a Warrant in Debt?

How Many Times Can a Judgment be Renewed in Oklahoma?

Can an Eviction Be Reversed?

Does Debt Consolidation Have Risks?

What Happens If You Avoid Getting Served Court Papers?

Does Student Debt Die With You?

Can Debt Collectors Call You at Work in Texas?

How Much Do You Have to Be in Debt to File for Chapter 7?

What Is the Statute of Limitations on Debt in Washington?

How Long Does a Judgment Last?

Can Private Disability Payments Be Garnished?

Can Debt Collectors Call From Local Numbers?

Does the Fair Credit Reporting Act Work in Florida?

The Truth: Should You Never Pay a Debt Collection Agency?

Should You Communicate with a Debt Collector in Writing or by Telephone?

Do I Need a Debt Negotiator?

What Happens After a Motion for Default Is Filed?

Can a Process Server Leave a Summons Taped to My Door?

Learn More With These Additional Resources:

Need help managing your finances? Check out these resources.

How to Make a Debt Validation Letter - The Ultimate Guide

How to Make a Motion to Compel Arbitration Without an Attorney

How to Stop Wage Garnishment — Everything You Need to Know

How to File an FDCPA Complaint Against Your Debt Collector (Ultimate Guide)

Defending Yourself in Court Against a Debt Collector

Tips on you can to file an FDCPA lawsuit against a debt collection agency

Advice on how to answer a summons for debt collection.

Effective strategies for how to get back on track after a debt lawsuit

New Hampshire Statute of Limitations on Debt

Sample Cease and Desist Letter Against Debt Collectors

The Ultimate Guide to Responding to a Debt Collection Lawsuit in Utah

West Virginia Statute of Limitations on Debt

What debt collectors cannot do — FDCPA explained

Defending Yourself in Court Against Debt Collector

How to Liquidate Debt

Arkansas Statute of Limitations on Debt

Youre Drowning in Debt — Heres How to Swim

Help! Im Being Sued by My Debt Collector

How to Make a Motion to Vacate Judgment

How to Answer Summons for Debt Collection in Vermont

North Dakota Statute of Limitations on Debt

ClearPoint Debt Management Review

Indiana Statute of Limitations on Debt

Oregon Eviction Laws - What They Say

CuraDebt Debt Settlement Review

How to Write a Re-Aging Debt Letter

How to Appear in Court by Phone

How to Use the Doctrine of Unclean Hands

Debt Consolidation in Eugene, Oregon

Summoned to Court for Medical Bills? What to Do Next

How to Make a Debt Settlement Agreement

Received a 3-Day Eviction Notice? Heres What to Do

How to Answer a Lawsuit for Debt Collection

Tips for Leaving the Country With Unpaid Credit Card Debt

Kansas Statute of Limitations on Debt Collection

How to File in Small Claims Court in Iowa

How to File a Civil Answer in Kings County Supreme Court

Roseland Associates Debt Consolidation Review

How to Stop a Garnishment

Debt Eraser Review

Do Debt Collectors Ever Give Up?

Can They Garnish Your Wages for Credit Card Debt?

How Often Do Credit Card Companies Sue for Non-Payment?

How Long Does a Judgement Last?

​​How Long Before a Creditor Can Garnish Wages?

How to Beat a Bill Collector in Court