Lawsuits explained – Part 3 of 8
In Lawsuits explained Part 2 we looked at the three basic phases of a business lawsuit in Florida. Now we will break them down further in this and the next two entries. First we will look at the pleadings stage which is where the issues are framed out with filings to the court like the lawsuit and motions that seek to define the issues such as motions to dismiss.
The Pleadings Phase in a Lawsuit
The first phase is the pleadings phase where the parties file documents with the Court to tell each other what their claims are and whether those are accepted or rejected and what defenses exist.
The Complaint and the Answer
These documents include the complaint that starts the lawsuit and the answer to that. The Answer can also contain defenses known as Affirmative Defenses whereby the defendant responding the to allegations brings up its own issues like the fact that the claim may be beyond the statute of limitations or that the contract on which the plaintiff sues was somehow facially or legally defective.
Compulsory and Permissive Counterclaims
Separate from the Answer and Defenses, the defendant also has the right to file a counterclaim. This is like a separate lawsuit within the lawsuit for which the Clerk of Court charges an additional filing fee because it is actually a separate lawsuit. In the counterclaim, the defendant sues the plaintiff for its own claims which can be based on the plaintiff's claim or separate and unique from those. Counterclaims based on the original claims are called compulsory counterclaims and those more often have to be filed when the answer is filed. Conversely, counterclaims that are not based on the original claims and are their own unique claims are called permissive counterclaims. Those can be filed when they arise, but are also generally filed when the answer is filed if they are known at that time. As you can see what is occurring between the parties in this early pleadings stage is that they are telling each other what their claims are and upon what factual allegations they are based. This is required for due process but also makes the overall litigation more efficient as the parties are putting their proverbial cards on the table.
Third-party claims and Crossclaims
After a lawsuit starts the defendant or one of the multiple defendants may realize that they have claims against another party who may not be part of the lawsuit at that point. When this occurs, the defendant can file a cross claim against a co-defendant or a third-party claim against a party that is not even named as a defendant.
In a cross claim, one defendant would seek to defer or share liability with another. For example, in a construction defect case where multiple contractors worked on a property and all are sued for the defects and damages one contractor may blame the actions of another for causing their work to become defective or add to the defect.
In contrast in that scenario if the plaintiff did not sue a party, say a materials supplier with whom it had no contract or connection, then the contractor that sourced the materials form that supplier may bring the supplier into the suit with a third-party claim alleging that it was the defective materials that caused the problem and not the contractor's installation of those materials.
Starts to sound complex and we haven’t even discussed motion practice like motions to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings.
The complexity and timing of these procedural mechanisms is codified in Florida’s Civil Procedure Rules and, along with the Rules of Evidence, is what you should expect your lawyer to know and understand as it is his or her tradecraft.
Who can help guide you in a lawsuit
As a party to and participant in a business lawsuit, you are in integral part of the matter and a key player on the team. So your lawyer should educate you on the options available in this pleadings phase and keep you informed and involved in this early process of your lawsuit.
The Law Office of David Steinfeld treats its clients in that manner because the lawyer and the client are a team where the lawyer brings experience in the lawsuit process and an expertise of the law, including the procedures, and the client brings the experience and familiarity of the facts and an intimate business knowledge of the other party with whom the client had had business dealings that led to the dispute at the core of the lawsuit. By leveraging the strengths that each party has, the team can maximize its opportunity for success in the business dispute.
The Palm Beach Business Lawyer Blog
Board Certified expert in Florida business law, David Steinfeld has almost 25 years legal experience.