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Starting a Lawsuit: Parties & Beginning Process

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  • 0:05 Parties to a Lawsuit
  • 0:39 Beginning Steps in a Lawsuit
  • 3:34 Trial Steps in a Lawsuit
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

There are two parties to a lawsuit: the plaintiff, who initiates the lawsuit, and the defendant, who defends against the allegations waged against him. A lawsuit is a process that involves several steps beginning with the filing of a complaint and ending with a judge's or jury's decision.

Parties to a Lawsuit

Have you ever watched a really exciting courtroom drama and wondered who's who in the courtroom?

Let's make sense out of the parties:

  • A plaintiff is a party who initiates a lawsuit or who yields allegations against another party
  • A defendant is on the receiving end of the allegations
  • A lawyer is a professional who represents a party in a court of law
  • A judge is a professional who oversees and makes decisions in court cases

Now that we understand who's who in a courtroom, just how does a person initiate a lawsuit?

Beginning Steps in a Lawsuit

To simplify the process, let's look at the steps that are taken to initiate a lawsuit:

  1. The plaintiff files a complaint with the court and a summons is delivered to the defendant
  2. The defendant answers the complaint and may counterclaim against the plaintiff
  3. Discovery of testimony through interrogatories and depositions take place
  4. A judge or jury hears the case, and a judgment is made
  5. If either party is not satisfied with the outcome, an appeal may be filed with a higher court

Let's add details to the process. Once a person believes they have been wronged and wants to sue, the first thing done is the filing of a complaint, a written statement containing claims of damages one suffered as a result of another person. This is the plaintiff.

Each wrongful act is considered a separate cause of action in the complaint. And, there can be several causes of action in only one complaint. These are the legal grounds and the facts of the case. The complaint serves to let the defendant know that impending legal action is coming his way.

Once a complaint has been filed, the defendant is notified by way of a summons, or an official notice from the court that an action is being taken against the defendant. It also states where the defendant must appear.

The defendant has 20-30 days to file an answer with the court. The answer contains the defendant's response to the claims against him. If the defendant neglects to answer to the claims against him, a default judgment will be granted in favor of the plaintiff. In other words, the plaintiff wins by default. Sometimes, the defendant may decide to file a counterclaim against the plaintiff. This is similar to the original complaint, but accuses the plaintiff of an action.

To set this into motion, Jim was driving east on a dark road. He neglected to turn his headlights on. Dennis was driving west on the same dark road. Dennis crashed into Jim causing major damage to Jim's car.

Jim filed a lawsuit against Dennis for negligence. Fair enough, Dennis should have been more careful when driving on a dark road. However, Dennis was not completely convinced that he was 100% at fault. After all, Jim was driving without headlights.

Dennis can file a counterclaim stating that the accident was not totally his fault. Had Jim's headlights been on, he would have seen Jim barreling down the road and avoided careening into his car.

Information about the case must be presented. This information is mined through discovery and is the opportunity to gain information and evidence from the other party. This is done in a couple of ways.

Interrogatories and depositions provide information based on testimony. There is a difference between interrogatories and depositions. Interrogatories are written answers to specific questions posed by the other party. Depositions are oral arguments in response to questions asked by the other party. Once all of the evidence and testimony is gathered, the case goes before a judge.

Trial Steps in a Lawsuit

When the case is ready for court, an important decision must be made. Should there be a jury trial or a bench trial? A jury trial simply means that evidence and testimony will be presented to the court, and a jury of 12 members will decide the outcome.

The party or parties may opt out of a jury trial. In this case, there will be a bench trial, where evidence and testimony is heard by a judge only. Either way, once a judgment or decision has been rendered, it stands.

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