Filing A Lawsuit
Despite earnest efforts, a large number of personal injury claims are not settled prior to filing suit. There are multiple reasons for this, including the relative powerless position of the parties. For example, neither party can force the other to produce documents to support their claim or even state what they think happen to cause the plaintiff’s injury. Once a claim is filed with the court, each side is granted more power to compel the opposing side to act. Simply because a claim is filed does not mean the matter will proceed to trial, though. Below is a brief overview of what to expect during and just after filing a claim.
Filing A Petition
Section 60-203 states that a lawsuit begins upon filing of a petition in the district court. A petition serves a very limited purpose: to place the defendant(s) on notice of the lawsuit. The basic form will be fairly plain, lacking many details that will ultimately be presented to the judge or jury at trial. Instead, the basis of the claim is laid out, along with enough information to show the court you have filed the lawsuit in the correct county. Thus, a claim for injuries resulting from an automobile collision could be as short as four sentences. Each sentence, or allegation, will be separately numbered so that the defendant can respond to each allegation separately.
Serving The Defendant
Once a petition is filed and the filing fee is paid, the court will approve a service packet for each defendant. This packet includes a copy of the petition and a summons, outlining the obligations of the defendant upon receiving the documents. “Service of process” is achieved by either getting a service packet directly into the defendant’s hands or taking other approved means, and notifying the court that service has been completed. The service packet may be delivered to the defendant by a sheriff deputy, either at home or work. A private party may also serve a defendant in this way, so long as that party is approved as a “process server” by the court. Another common method of service is achieved by mailing the documents to the defendant’s home via certified mail. Outside of these methods, unusual methods of service may also be employed. These include publishing notice of the lawsuit in a newspaper. It is important that service be accomplished according to the means outlined by Kansas statute. Failure to properly serve a defendant may ultimately result in the dismissal of the claim. In Murphy Bros., Inc. v. Michetti Pipe Stringing, Inc., the United States Supreme Court upheld such dismissal for violating a defendant’s right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Once service has been achieved, the defendant will have to respond to the petition. This is done in the form of an answer, in which the defendant addresses each allegation in one of three ways: admitting the allegation as true, denying the allegation, or stating the defendant does not know whether the allegation is true or false. The defendant can also put forth defenses against the claims of the plaintiff. The most common defense is comparative fault, an argument that the plaintiff was at least partially responsible for the injury. Section 60-212 grants the defendant 21 days from the date of service to file an answer. If a defendant fails to meet this deadline, all allegations are taken as true and a default judgment is entered against the defendant.
Other Responsive Pleadings
A defendant may file additional pleadings with the court shortly after or before filing an answer. These include a motion to dismiss and a motion for judgment on the pleadings. These are similar but distinction motions. A motion to dismiss seeks to get the lawsuit dismissed because of a defect, such as failing to state a valid claim that is recognized by law. For example, in Hokanson v. Lichtor, a plaintiff attempted to bring suit against his insurance company and treating physician, alleging they were conspiring to falsely testify that his injuries were not caused by a motorcycle crash. The court sympathized with the plaintiff, but noted that Kansas law does not recognize a claim for such actions and dismissed his claims for this reason. Another common reason to dismiss is when the court lacks “subject matter jurisdiction” over a claim. A common example of this can be found in Anchor Casualty Co. v. Wise. There, a worker was injured while on the job, but filed a premise liability action rather than a worker’s compensation claim. The Supreme Court of Kansas held that that case was properly dismissed, as worker’s compensation has removed other overlapping remedies from the subject matter jurisdiction of Kansas courts.
A motion for judgment on the pleadings seeks a judgment stating the defendant prevails. This is often requested when a defendant agrees with all the allegations put forth by the plaintiff, but either still prevails based upon these agreed upon facts or prevails based upon an affirmative defense. This motion is fairly rare, as any disputed facts that affect the legal outcome will ensure the motion is denied. It may succeed, as it did in Clean Water Truck Co. v. M. Bruenger & Co., when the facts all point to defendant prevailing. The plaintiff in that case brought a claim for defamation arising from statements made on the floor of the Kansas legislature. However, statements made in the process of law making, even when false and slanderous, are afforded complete protection by law. The parties all agreed as to the facts, and those facts supported a judgment for the defendant. Thus, judgment on the pleadings was properly granted. A successful motion for a plaintiff is possible, but virtually never happens. A defendant will rarely agree to facts outlining liability, particularly since a plaintiff must prove all those facts to a jury to win at trial.
Filing a lawsuit is the beginning of a long road of litigation. Upon filing, the parties become “buckled in” for the journey. The litigation may never reach trial, but it filing may be necessary to protect the claim from becoming time-barred by its statute of limitations or to grant the parties greater power to compel production of documents or testimony by witnesses. It is important that the filing is complete and correct, or the defendant may end the lawsuit just as it begins. That highlights why having experienced and competent legal counsel is so important for a plaintiff seeking redress of his or her injuries.
For more information on the next step of the Personal Injury Trial Process, please see the below link.
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