Starting a Lawsuit: Initial Court Papers

At the beginning of a lawsuit, the legal documents that are filed and sent to the court are called pleadings. The attorney you hired will be the one to explain to you what each pleading means and the summary will help you understand the gist of it. It should also be noted that different states may have different Rules of Procedure.


Generally, the first document that is being filed in a suit is called the first petition or complaint. This pleading is the document that provides the claim of the complaining party against the defendant. The complaint would include the legal basis for the court’s jurisdiction. The complaint will also relate the issues and the facts and thoroughly explain the relationships between the two. Another part of the complaint also includes a demand which discusses the relief being prayed. The plaintiff should also explain the damages demanded and should discuss why the plaintiff deserves damages.

The Complaint is important because it explains the legal and factual bases of the claims of the plaintiffs. The facts should be based on the personal knowledge of the plaintiff. Sometimes, there will be “upon information and belief” that will be written before setting up the facts. This means that the plaintiff should have been present in the subject event or he should have been able to have a belief from a reasonable source. It is important that the Complaint should be short and plain. The Complainant should not be surprised with the allegations.

Summons and Service of Process

The defense is being sent the Summons where the lawsuit will be litigated and heard. The recipient is being notified on what on what is contained in the Complaint and what can be claimed against him. The summons will also include the time period when the defense can set up a reply against the plaintiff. If the defense is unable to send a reply, he can be declared in default.

Most of the time, the summons is a form document. The summons will have the caption including the docket number and the identification number put by the court. The body of the form will include the reason why the defendant is being sued. The summons also includes “Notice.” It should also be noted that the Summons should b properly served to the defendant for it to have effect. The legal term used here is service of process. The proper service of the summons is what gives the person the jurisdiction over the person of the accused.


The reply of the defendant to the Complaint is called an Answer. However, states may call it differently. Each paragraph of the Complaint will be addressed by the Answer and these statements may be of admission, denial or insufficiency of knowledge to admit or deny. The answer may also contain affirmative defenses. Affirmative defenses admit the facts but provide some defenses which would justify the commission of such acts. The affirmative defenses may also be basis for the motion to dismiss.


If the defendant has his own claims against the plaintiff, this claim can be raised in a Counterclaim. A Counterclaim can be filed in lieu of the Answer. The Counterclaim is also written in the format that is similar to the Complaint. It looks like a Complaint but it is coming from the defendant.

Reply to Counterclaim

If the plaintiff wants to rebut the Counterclaim that has been filed by the defendant, the response is called the Reply. The Reply will admit or deny the allegations set forth in the Counterclaim. This is the correspondent of the Answer but the Reply is filed by the plaintiff.


When there are many parties to the lawsuit, there may be cross-claimants whose claims are aligned with the claims of either the complainant or the defendant.  For example, if Driver B and Driver C are sued by Driver A after a multiple-vehicle accident, and Driver C was actually injured by something Driver B did, Driver C might file a cross-claim against Driver B, within the same lawsuit.

Answer to Cross-claim

The answer to the cross-claim is filed by the person whose cross-claim has been filed against.

Third-party Complaint

A third-party complaint is filed when the defendant wants to pass on the liability to a third person. A common example is a contract in which the third party promises to pay if you the defendant is found liable in a case. The third-party complaint will always contain the same format as that of the complaint.

Answer to Third-party Complaint

The person being sued through a Third-party Complaint must file an Answer, similar to the one filed after the original Complaint.

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