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Pretrial Pleadings & Service of Process in Civil Litigation

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  • 0:06 The Pretrial Stage of…
  • 0:59 Common Pretrial Pleadings
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

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

Before a trial begins, there are several pleadings a plaintiff and defendant must file with the court to set a lawsuit into motion and this is known as the pretrial stage of a trial. Some common pleadings include a complaint, summons, motion to dismiss and motion for judgment.

The Pretrial Stage of a Lawsuit

There are four main stages a trial moves through before it is finally over and final judgment has been rendered. Each stage requires different pleadings, or a request of the court to grant relief to a party. Relief, in layman's terms, means a legal remedy to a situation, and can come in the form of a quick judgment or even a dismissal of the case. Although our main focus in this lesson is on the pretrial pleadings, it is important to understand the entire process of a trial by reviewing the four main steps:

  1. Pretrial pleadings are filed with the court
  2. Pretrial discovery is performed to uncover testimony and evidence to help both sides
  3. Trial begins with jury selection, presentation of testimony and a final decision
  4. Post trial appeals can be made with a higher court

Let's talk about some of the most common pretrial pleadings filed with a court.

Common Pretrial Pleadings

A lawsuit begins with a cause of action or even several causes of action. In other words, someone did someone wrong and the wronged person wants justice. To exemplify the pretrial stage of a lawsuit, we will use a classic slip and fall accident.

Several times a day, the staff at Mac Daddy's Burgers is required to mop the floors of the dining area. There is a particular system to mopping floors to avoid a slip hazard. Gritty Donohue was asked to mop the dining room and pay careful attention to the area at and around the soda machine. Everyone knows that Gritty detests mopping and tries to rush the job when the boss isn't looking.

On this particular day, Gritty not only rushed the mop job, he also forgot to place the yellow caution signs over the wet area. Millie Foster, an older woman in her 80s, stopped in to Mac Daddy's for a burger. While fetching her frosty drink, she slipped and sailed clear across the dining room. She let out quite a yelp and for good reason! Millie broke her hip, her leg and a few neatly polished nails. During her painful recovery, Millie decided to sue Mac Daddy's and Gritty Donohue for negligence.

Here's what she did. Millie, who now becomes the plaintiff, or initiating party to a lawsuit, filed a complaint, or a legal document that sets forth causes of action or claims of wrongdoing against both parties. In the complaint, Gritty and Mac Daddy's were mentioned as parties to the negligence that caused her broken bones. In the complaint, Millie will include:

  • Names of parties
  • Causes of action
  • Where and when to appear in court

Once filed, a summons will be sent to both the owner of Mac Daddy's, Mackentyre Mills, and Gritty Donohue. The summons will contain information about the case and where and when to appear in court. Summons are generally delivered by process servers, or a messenger appointed by the court, to inform, in a legal document, that impending legal action is being taken against the person served.

Once the summons has been served, the parties have a certain number of days to respond to the complaint, depending on the court. Remember, not all state courts work in the same way. If the defendant, or the party to which the legal action is directed, does not answer to the summons, there may be a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. This means the plaintiff wins by default.

Suppose Mac Daddy and Gritty believed they did nothing wrong? They can file a motion to dismiss the case. This motion will request that the court dismiss or end the case because Millie's spill was of no fault of the parties. Another way Mills and Gritty can approach the impending litigation is to file a motion for judgment in where the defending parties request that the judge makes a decision based solely on the facts as presented in the original complaint.

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