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What are pleadings in civil litigation?

When a civil lawsuit is filed, the documents that are filed by plaintiffs and defendants into the court record at the start of the case are called pleadings. There are different kinds of pleadings that serve different purposes, and an experienced legal professional can help you understand what pleading is required. While you might have to provide information that will go into pleadings during your case, the documents themselves are usually prepared and filed by lawyers.

Most civil lawsuits begin with a pleading known as the petition or the complaint. This document usually outlines what grievance, complaint or case a plaintiff believes he or she has against a defendant. In addition to spelling out the complaint, this pleading typically also includes a demand for judgment against the defendant that includes what the plaintiff wants to see from the defendant.

Another type of pleading common to civil cases is the summons, which notifies the defendant that he, she or it, in the case of an organization, is being sued. Following the summons, the defendant might file answers, which is a documented response to either the petition or documents requiring information or responses. Other common pleadings include counterclaims, cross claims and replies.

As you can see, the types of pleadings are numerous – and we've only touched on some of the documents that are common to most civil cases. Not only do you have to understand which document is appropriate, most documents used in court have specific formatting and content requirements. Working with an experienced lawyer helps ensure your pleadings are correctly formatted and written, bolstering the chances of a successful civil litigation action.

Source: FindLaw, "Starting a Lawsuit: Initial Court Papers," accessed April 01, 2016

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