IT'S ALL FREE! Reading a Pleading

Pleadings are legal documents that are filed during a lawsuit.  In many law firms, paralegals or legal secretaries draft pleadings.  However, knowing how to read a pleading provides a wealth of information about the case to the legal nurse consultant.  Let's look at a sample and interpret it.

Strictly speaking, the linked sample is a discovery request, not a pleading.  Pleadings include the Complaint, Answer, Affirmative Defenses, etc.  However, discovery requests are filed with the court during a lawsuit.  They contain the same information and formatting as pleadings, so I'll take the broader view and refer to the sample as a pleading. 

The jurisdiction and venue are at the top of the page, usually centered or in one of the upper corners.  In the sample, the jurisdiction is circuit court and the venue is Jupiter County, FL.  This information tells the legal nurse consultant that the case is a civil one (as opposed to a criminal one) and the court is a county circuit one (as opposed to a federal one.)

Below the name of the court is a case number.  The court clerk assigns the case number after the plaintiff files the Complaint.  In the sample, the case number identifies the year (2010) and the month (06, which is June) that the lawsuit was filed.  Each county tracks pleadings by this case number.  For example, if you wanted to know the exact date of the filing, you could look at the county Clerk of Court website to obtain the information.  In some counties, this information is free.  In others, there is a fee to view court information.

The next part of the document names the parties in the case.  The parties, of course, are the plaintiff and the defendant(s), and this section lists them by name.  In the sample case, the spouse is functioning as the Personal Representative of her deceased husband.  Therefore, the wife, on behalf of her deceased husband, is the plaintiff.  For defendants, the pleading names a hospital corporation, seven physicians, and five professional associations, which are the legal entities of the physicians.  In addition, one of the physicians, Dr. Lepe, practices under the business name of Jupiter County Cardiology so the plaintiff names that entity as well. 

The items listed above (jurisdiction, venue, case number, parties) are known as the style or caption of the case.  The style/caption is a heading required on all pleadings.

Below the list of parties in the case are the title of the pleading and the party presenting it.  Typical titles of pleadings are Complaint, Answer, Affirmative Defenses, etc.  In the sample case, one of the defendants (Dr. Wolske) and his professional association are requesting one of the other defendants (Jupiter County Hospital) to produce documents. 

Below the title is the body of the pleading.  The body identifies the specifics of the request or demand.  In some pleadings, such as a Complaint, the body of the pleading is extensive.  In the sample case, the body is much simpler.  It requests that Jupiter County Hospital supply medical records and radiographic films to Dr. Wolske.  In additional, it requests a copy of the hospital's medical malpractice insurance policies.

After the body of the pleading is a statement regarding certificate of service (certificate of mailing in some jurisdictions).  The certificate of service is a statement indicating the distribution of the pleading (in this case via US mail) to the listed parties.

Identification of the attorney is the next aspect of the pleading.  The block of information identifies the law firm's name, address, phone and fax numbers, and the name of the attorney in the firm, the attorney's role in the case, the attorney's signature and bar number.

The final part of the document is the service list.  The service list identifies which attorneys received the pleading. You'll notice that the attorneys for all parties in the lawsuit received a copy of the pleading.

Now that you know how to do it, reading a pleading is easy!

...Katy Jones