A personal injury action arising from a commercial vehicle accident will begin with a complaint, usually accompanied by a summons. A complaint is a legal document that lays out the claims that the “plaintiff” (the person or business bringing the lawsuit) has against the “defendant(s)” (the person, people or legal entity being sued). The summons lets the defendant know who the plaintiff is, in what court the case is being brought and how long the defendant has to respond to the complaint. In short, the complaint tells why the defendant is being sued, and the summons gives the defendant guidance about how to reply.
The defendant has to file an answer within a certain time (usually less than 21 days) after receiving the summons and complaint. The defendant’s response must include what portions of the complaint, if any, the defendant admits to, what specifically the defendant contests, what defenses the defendant may have to any of the allegations made in the complaint, and whether the defendant has claims against the plaintiff or any other party. Along with the answer, the defendant may include a counterclaim against the plaintiff, or a related third party claim against another person or business.
Instead of filing an answer, a defendant could file a motion to dismiss. A motion to dismiss can raise a number of defenses that, if proven, would warrant that the case be dropped. These include: lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter, lack of jurisdiction over the person, insufficiency of process, insufficiency of service of process, failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and failure to join a party.
If the defendant does not respond to the complaint within the allotted time frame, the court may enter a default judgment against the defendant. When the defendant’s answer contains a counterclaim or a third-party claim, the party against whom that claim is made also has to answer within a certain time.