Documents and Papers from a Court : Counterclaims, Cross-Claims and Third-Party Complaints

What is a counterclaim?
Sometimes when you are sued, you have a claim against the person who is suing you. If your claim is based on the reason that you are being sued, you must file a counterclaim.

Example: John Smith is sued because he did not pay the contractor in full for the work the contractor did building his deck. John claims he didn’t pay in full because the work wasn’t done right, and he had to pay another contractor to have it fixed. John must file a counterclaim that asks that the contractor pay him for the additional expenses in fixing the deck. He can be reimbursed even if the amount he is asking for is more than what he owes the contractor. The court will determine if John’s claim will be reduced by the contractor’s claim.

When do I file a counterclaim?
You must file a counterclaim where your claim exists at the time you are served with the complaint AND your claim comes out of the specific event or transaction that is part of the lawsuit. A compulsory counterclaim means your claim must be filed in the case. If you fail to file a compulsory counterclaim in the case against you, you can’t file a lawsuit on that claim later.

Example: Two people have a car accident at an intersection. One person (Plaintiff) sues the other (Defendant) for personal injuries and property damage to the car. If the Defendant thinks the Plaintiff was the person who caused the wreck, he must counterclaim for his injuries and damages or he will waive that claim forever.

What is a permissive counterclaim?
Another type of counterclaim is called a permissive counterclaim. This type of claim may be filed in the current lawsuit, but because this claim isn’t based on the underlying events at the heart of the lawsuit, then it doesn’t have to be filed as a counterclaim.

If a counterclaim comes up after all pleadings are filed but before the Court has heard the case, a party must ask the court for permission to file a supplemental pleading to include the new counterclaim. If a party fails to file a counterclaim because of an oversight or neglect, that party can ask the Court to change – “amend” – their pleadings to include the counterclaim, but only before the Court has started the trial.

What are cross-claims?
Counterclaims exist between the original Plaintiff and Defendant in a lawsuit. Sometimes a Plaintiff sues more than one Defendant, or a Defendant may have a claim against another Defendant in the suit. This is called a cross-claim. A cross-claim is not compulsory, but it must arise out of the matters on which the original lawsuit (or counterclaim in the original suit) is based.

What if someone files a cross-claim?
If you are served with a cross-claim or a counterclaim, you must file an answer (a responsive pleading), or the Court will assume that the cross-claim or the counterclaim is correct and might grant judgment against you.

A counterclaim or cross-claim may add new people to the lawsuit.  Please review the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure now.

Municipal Courts may only hear civil cases where the claims do not exceed $15,000. If a counterclaim or cross-claim asks for damages that are more than a Municipal Court can rule on, the Court will transfer the case to the appropriate Court with the authority or jurisdiction to hear the larger claims.

What is a third-party complaint?
A Defendant can bring another party into the lawsuit by filing a Third-Party Complaint. By doing this, the Defendant in the original lawsuit becomes a Third-Party Plaintiff when he files claims against a Third-Party Defendant. The Third-Party Defendant is someone that the original Defendant – now called a Third-Party Plaintiff – claims is responsible for all or part of the original Plaintiff’s claim. A Third-Party Complaint can be filed within 14 days of when the original Defendant files his original Answer. After that 14-day deadline, the Defendant must ask the Court for permission to file the Third-Party Complaint. The Third-Party Complaint must be served on ALL current parties to the lawsuit, as well as the Third-Party Defendant.

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This content was created by the Ohio State Bar Foundation's 2006 Fellows Class - Keys to the Courtroom Project.

See also the Forms & Education tab in this section for more information.

The information in this site is not intended as legal advice.
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