Starting a Lawsuit

The legal papers filed in court during a lawsuit are called pleadings. The first pleading filed in a lawsuit is usually the Complaint. The Complaint identifies the parties involved, sets out the legal bases for the court's jurisdiction over the controversy and parties, states the legal claims being made, and sets out the facts giving rise to those claims. The purpose of the Complaint is to provide the defendant with notice of the factual and legal bases of the plaintiff's claims.

After a Complaint is filed, it must be served upon the defendant through the use of a Summons. A Summons is an order from the court that notifies the defendant that he or she has been sued. The Summons also sets out the time period within which the defendant must file an answer or seek to have the case dismissed. Failure to respond to a lawsuit on time will cause a defendant to be "in default." The Summons will be served along with a copy of the Complaint. Once properly served, a Summons gives the court jurisdiction over the case and over the defendant allowing the court to make decisions about the controversy described in the Complaint.

Once a Complaint has been served, the defendant must respond to the allegations therein. A defendant's response to the Complaint is called an Answer. The Answer will sequentially address each paragraph in the Complaint. Typically, each response will take one of three forms: admitted, denied, or insufficient knowledge to admit or deny. An answer will also set forth various affirmative defenses; legal reasons why the defendant should not be held liable.

Florida law requires the disclosure of all relevant facts and documents to the opposing party prior to trial. Any evidence that will be used at trial must be disclosed beforehand. This disclosure is accomplished through a methodical process called "discovery." After the Complaint has been served and an Answer filed the parties will proceed to the discovery phase of the lawsuit. Discovery takes three basic forms: written discovery, document production and depositions.