Fictitious Defendants Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Fictitious Defendants, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Fictitious Defendants?

n. During the course of a lawsuit, if unknown persons or entities exist which were involved in the incident or the business being sued. Usually identified as “Doe 1” or “Green and Red Company” with an inclusion in the complaint that if and when the unidentified defendants are identified, they will be included in the complaint. By including fictitious defendants in a lawsuit, the statute of limitations is kept from expiring despite the fact that the true name is not known. If during an investigation or discovery phase, new information is located about a potential defendant, the real name may be substituted and the person is served with a summons and complaint. If the unnamed defendants are not identified by the time of the trial, then the case continues without them.

History and Meaning of Fictitious Defendants

Fictitious defendants traditionally refer to parties that may have been involved in the incident or lawsuit, but whose identity is unknown. Commonly referred to as "Doe defendants," they are named as such in order to prevent the statute of limitations from running out before a proper investigation can be launched. Fictitious defendants are used to ensure that the plaintiff is able to preserve their rights and continue with the lawsuit until the true names of the defendants are identified. Using fictitious defendants helps to ensure that the plaintiff is not penalized for being unable to identify all parties involved in a lawsuit.

Examples of Fictitious Defendants

  1. A plaintiff sues several armed robbers, but does not know the name of one of them. By adding fictitious defendants named "John Doe" to the lawsuit, the plaintiff can keep the case active until the name is discovered.
  2. A company sued an unknown supplier using a fictitious name in order to prevent the statute of limitations from running out. After identifying the supplier, they were added to the lawsuit in place of the fictitious defendant.
  3. In a medical malpractice suit, a plaintiff may use a fictitious name to represent an unknown nurse, in order to avoid a statute of limitations issue.

Legal Terms Similar to Fictitious Defendants

  1. Nominal Defendant - A person or entity that was named in the complaint for the sake of satisfying a legal requirement or fulfilling a certain formal prerequisite, but who is not expected to have a part in the litigation or contribute to its result.
  2. Pseudonym - A fictitious name used by an individual in a legal matter in order to protect their identity.
  3. Imposter Defendants - Similar to fictitious defendants, these are parties that the plaintiff believes to have been involved in the lawsuit, but they are unsure of their true identity.