Pleadings in a Civil Case

The pleadings in a civil case make up the first phase of a civil trial. In very simple terms, the pleadings phase of a trial is intended to provide each side of a case with an honest and accurate representation of what the other side intends to argue about and prove in the pending trial. Most pre-trial pleadings include a complaint, an answer or reply to the complaint, and oftentimes, pleadings include a counterclaim(s).


Pleadings begin with the plaintiff, typically with a lawyer’s help, filing a complaint. A complaint is supposed to frame the issues of a case by setting out the plaintiff’s version of the facts of what happened as well as the amount of damages they will be seeking.

Statements of a plaintiff’s civil cause of action are referred to as counts. A count is each separate statement in a complaint that if it were to stand alone, would give valid cause for a lawsuit. Typically counts are referred to by numbers as Count One, Count Two, and so forth until all of the complaints have been named and explained.

Complaints typically involve:

– An introduction that names the plaintiff(s) and defendants in the case as well as the kind of trial

 the plaintiff is seeking. In some states this is referred to as a complaint and prayer.

– A preamble that names the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s), typically states basic information about

 each, such as where they reside, as well as information about them that is pertinent to the

 complaint. It also states the basic reason for the lawsuit based information from the plaintiff’s

 point of view.

– A statement of facts that supports the validity of the lawsuit’s intentions.

– The count(s) against the defendant(s).

– The amount or kind of restitution (compensation) the plaintiff is seeking.


The defendant(s) have a certain amount of time to answer a complaint in the form of an explanation of why the plaintiff will not prevail in their claim against the defendant. At this point, the defendant also has the opportunity to file any counterclaims or other less usual claims such as, cross claims and third-party complaints.

Additional Pleadings

A counterclaim is made if the defendant has their own claim against the plaintiff. Crossclaims are used when there are codefendants or coplaintiffs on the same side of a case that have complaints against the other side. When a complaint is filed by an original defendant or an original plaintiff that alleges a third-party is responsible for all or part of a claim or a counterclaim, it is called a third-party complaint.  

While the basics of pleadings are similar from state to state in reality, every state has its own specific statutes and guidelines for filing a pleading. If you are enlisting the help of a lawyer in a civil case, it is important that they are licensed to practice law in the state or jurisdiction that your claim needs to be filed.

Be informed about civil litigation proceedings with Intuito Legal.