Friday, November 26, 2010

Drafting A Complaint: The Demand For Relief

WHEREFORE, this is where you tell the court what you are asking for. You are literally pleading for something.  Some jurisdictions follow an old rule of practice where the demand for relief begins, after the word "wherefore" in all caps, "Plaintiff prays the Court enter Judgment against" the defendant.  The more modern way to phrase it is "Plaintiff demands Judgment against" the defendant.  However you phrase it, the point is the same.  You need to specifically say what you want.  Are you looking for compensatory damages, statutory damages, punitive damages, injunctive relief, a declaratory judgment, attorneys fees, costs, interest?  If you don't put it in, you might not be able to claim it.

This section is organized in different ways for different cases.  Like the opening paragraph, it is not numbered. Sometimes, a single unified paragraph will work for the whole complaint.  Other times, each cause of action needs it's own damages paragraph, or there are seperate paragraphs for each defendent or each type of damages.  Overall, the point is that you clearly state which plaintiffs are seeking what relief against which defendants.

When dealing with compensatory damages, the rule was formerly that you had to demand a specific dollar amount.  A specific amount is no longer required, and the phrase ordinarily used is "in an amount that will fully and fairly compensate Plaintiffs for the damages they have suffered" or something similar.  A specific dollar amount is still used in actions such as collection matters, or other actions where a set amount is readily capable of calculation.  The advantage is that, in those cases, a default judgment can easily be entered for the amount demanded without the need for an inquest if the defendant doesn't answer.

Where damages are for pain and suffering, emotional distress, or other non-economic losses, however, you cannot avoid an inquest merely by putting a specific dollar amount.  Some practitioners still put a dollar amount in these cases, mostly for shock value.  By doing so, you are capping your damages, but the dollar amounts are usually so outrageosly high that it doesn't matter.

I am generally against putting a dollar amount where it is merely for shock value.  Unsophisticated defendants may be surprised, and media outlets will almost always state the dollar amount if you put one in, but if the number is meaningless then it only serves as a distraction.  At best, it is a meaningless number that draws attention to your case as something you deemed "serious" enough to put a large number on.  More likely, however, the number sounds outrageous, you are playing a role in proliferating the inaccurate view of an out-of-control legal system, and you may have made an otherwise meritorious case sound frivolous.  

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1 comment:

  1. I found this cite very useful as I am currently in a lawsuit filed in Middle Pa.