How To Start a Lawsuit

In ancient cultures, disputes over money were often resolved by the sword.

In modern societies, disputes over money that the parties cannot resolve among themselves are resolved in courts that are set up by the government.

In New Jersey, a person or a business who claims to be entitled to money from another person or business has access to the “Law Division” of the New Jersey Superior Court. The person or business seeking to recover money is called the “Plaintiff.” The person or business who allegedly owes the money is called the “Defendant.”

This Court has a thick set of rules for waging battle in a civil, legal way.

The rules require a Plaintiff to start a lawsuit by filing a “Complaint” which is a document that tells the story.  It sets forth all the facts that, if proven, will legally support the claim being made.

For example, if a person is injured in a car accident, the Complaint will recount the events leading up to the accident, describe how the accident took place because of the Defendant’s poor driving, and describe the damage to the vehicle and the injuries to the Plaintiff.  A bank seeking to recover on an unpaid loan will file a Complaint setting forth the terms of the loan agreement and the fact that the Defendant has failed to make payment.

The Complaint is typically prepared by a lawyer hired by the Plaintiff.  The Complaint is filed with the Court’s clerk, given a docket number, then delivered by a process server to the Defendant. Along with the Complaint, the process server delivers a “Summons” which advises the Defendant on what the Defendant needs to do to defend the allegations of the Complaint.

The Defendant has a deadline of 35 days to file an “Answer” which is a document that responds to the Complaint by admitting to or denying the facts that are laid out in the Complaint.  Along with the Answer, the Defendant may file a list of “Defenses” which, if proven, will relieve the Defendant of having to pay money to the Plaintiff, even if all the facts the Plaintiff asserts are true.  An example of a Defense is duress – the Defendant asserts that he only signed the Plaintiff’s document because the Plaintiff held a gun to his head.  The Answer is usually prepared by an attorney hired by the Defendant, or hired by the insurance company that provides the Defendant with insurance coverage for the types of claims the Plaintiff has made.

Once the Defendant files an Answer and Defenses and delivers a copy to the Plaintiff or the Plaintiff’s lawyer, the parties have a lawsuit.

At this point, the Discovery stage of the lawsuit commences.  During the Discovery stage, the parties may be ordered to participate in Mediation. After the Discovery stage ends, the parties may be required to participate in Non-Binding Arbitration. If the matter does not resolve between and among the parties, after the completion of Non-Binding Arbitration, the court schedules the matter for Trial.

Look for other blog posts on the topics of Discovery, Expert Witnesses, Mediation, Non-Binding Arbitration and the Trial.

This article is intended as general information and not as legal advice.  If you are considering starting a lawsuit, contact an attorney at Maselli Warren, P.C. to schedule a consultation.