DC Personal Injury Glossary

When dealing with personal injury cases in DC there can be unique terminology used during the process of a case. In order to best understand the process of a case, it is important to understand the terminology used. The following are some of the important terms and definitions that are used in personal injury cases.


A cross-claim is a claim that is asserted by one defendant against another. That is, if a plaintiff is injured by two or more defendants, and the plaintiff asserts a claim against two or more defendants, one defendant may assert a cross-claim against another. Typically, a cross-claim is initiated by one defendant against a co-defendant, and the party to whom the cross-claim is asserted is responsible for filing an answer or responsive pleading.

Generally, a defendant will bring a cross-claim in order to seek indemnification and/or contribution, should a court ultimately rule in favor of the plaintiff and award damages. Cross-claims are common in DC in cases involving two or more defendants among whom liability is disputed or unclear.


Pleadings are formal documents and statements that are filed with the court. There are rules that govern the manner in which documents are presented to the court, and pleadings are subject to these rules. However, the specific regulations that govern pleadings are state, county, and even judge dependent. Thus, it is important that any individual who wishes to initiate a lawsuit by filing a complaint with the court have the assistance of an experienced attorney on their side.

Generally, the pleadings for a catastrophic injury case present the case to the court in a straightforward and direct manner, while placing the other party on notice of the claim.


A summons is a document that is issued by the clerk’s office that acts as an order to appear before a judge or a magistrate. Typically, a summons is attached to the relevant complaint and is served upon the defendant or at-fault party in a lawsuit. The summons contains rudimentary instructions and requires the defendant to respond to the complaint within the appropriate amount of time.

Ignoring a Summons

It is possible that a defendant will ignore the summons. While there are no criminal charges that may arise from ignoring a summons, if the defendant chooses to do so, there are steps that may be taken by the plaintiff to move the claim forward and to enforce any awarded damages.

Process After the Summons is Served

The next step in the process is for the defendant or at-fault party to respond to the complaint. To do so, the defendant will either file an answer or some other dispositive motion. The answer will generally contain information regarding the facts and defenses the defendant may raise throughout the course of the ligation.

In DC, the defendant is required to admit or deny, or otherwise respond to, each allegation contained in the complaint. If they admit to an allegation, then it is admitted. If they deny an allegation, then it is denied. If the defendant represents that they have insufficient information to respond to the allegation, then that allegation is deemed denied.

Third Party Complaint

If an injured individual asserts a claim against a defendant and that defendant believes an unnamed party is responsible for the injuries or damages, then the defendant may initiate a third party complaint against the third party they believe is responsible.

Essentially, there is no real difference between a third party complaint and any other type of complaint, apart from who files the complaint and when they file it. A third party complaint is typically filed by a defendant asserting their claim against an unnamed or party not currently a party to the case, after a case has been brought against them. However, the defendant would file the appropriate pleading asserting the third party complaint, obtain the summons, and have that document served on the defendant—just as a plaintiff would an initial complaint—and that third party defendant would be required to respond to the third-party complaint pursuant to the court’s rules.