A civil lawsuit starts when the plaintiff files a complaint against a defendant. In the complaint, the plaintiff outlines his version of what the defendant did and asks for relief or damages. The plaintiff files the complain in civil court and a summons is served to the defendant, which includes a copy of the plaintiff's complaint and information regarding the first court hearing. Defendants may choose to hire an attorney or they may also act as their own counsel -- referred to as pro se -- and file their own motion or answer to the lawsuit. They can also file further motions, such as counterclaims, pre-trial motions and motions after trial.
The answer is the defendant's written response to the complaint filed with the court. The defendant's should write his answer in concise and easy to understand terms what his defense to each claim asserted by the plaintiff is. The answer should also contain the defendant's admission or denial of each of the facts contained in the plaintiff's complaint and provide any reasons the plaintiff should not win. The defendant may also claim an affirmative defense in the pleading motion. For example, if the statute of limitations had run out on the amount of time the plaintiff had to file the lawsuit, the defendant may use this as a defense to the suit.
When the defendant files his answer with the court, he may also file a motion for a counterclaim against the plaintiff. A counterclaim is basically an assertion by the defendant that the plaintiff bears the brunt of the responsibility of the issue and is actually liable to the defendant for damages or other relief. When a defendant files a counterclaim, the plaintiff is responsible for filing an answer to it.
Before the trial begins, both sides may file motions for discovery, summary judgment or other matters that the court needs to decide before the actual trial. Motions for discovery include request for documents in which the filing party clearly states which documents they want produced. This request can also include electronic files. A motion requesting a summary judgment is a request for the court to make a decision on the case, based on its merits, without going to trial.
Motions after Trial
Once the trial is over and a judgment entered, the losing party may file a motion for a new trial, claiming there were legal errors in the trial just held. It is up to the judge to decide to grant a new trial. The losing party can also file a motion for judgment, despite a jury verdict in favor of the other party. The court also decides whether to grant or deny this motion.
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