Previous posts here have discussed some of the basics of the law with regard to people who have been injured in motorcycle accidents in the greater Seattle area. Previous posts have touched on the theory of negligence, and the elements that are usually required to create a case that an individual’s injuries were caused by someone else’s carelessness. When this can be shown to the satisfaction of a judge or jury, the individual who was injured may be entitled to payments in compensation for injuries.
Before a lawsuit gets to that point, however, and even before settlement discussions are had with the other party, a formal lawsuit must be lodged with the proper legal authority. In this post, we will look at the procedural process of the beginning of a civil lawsuit in order to better understand how such actions wind their way through the judicial system.
First, any person seeking redress for damages in the civil court system must swear out a complaint or petition. This is a formal document that puts the court and the other party on notice that a lawsuit is being lodged, the reasons the “plaintiff” believes he or she is entitled to compensation and what compensation is being sought. This document will list, usually in numbered paragraphs, the facts of the case as seen by the plaintiff. It will also contain a “plea” for relief, which is where the person filing the lawsuit asks for what he or she is seeking.
When the complaint is filed, it is “served” on the defendant, who is the party the plaintiff claims has committed a wrong. This is done along with a “summons” from the court, which explains that a lawsuit has been filed against the defendant, and what steps the defendant may take next. The “service” is usually perfected by either a law enforcement official or someone who works for a private process serving company. The complaint is served when it is physically handed to the defendant by the process server, or is left at the defendant’s home with a competent person, usually someone over the age of 14.
After being served, the defendant generally has 20 days to “answer” the complaint, which means that the defendant will file a written response admitting or denying the facts that have been listed in the complaint by the plaintiff. Denials can be either because the defendant feels what is alleged is untrue, or because the defendant does not have enough information to know whether it is true. If the defendant fails to file an answer, a “default” is usually issued by the court, which means the allegations in the complaint are assumed to be true.