Fundamentals of Prosecuting and Defending Lawsuits in Hawaii - Vol. 1 - Pleadings

Admittedly, there are multiple different types of cases, adjudicated in various State Courts in Hawaii, so this series of posts attempts to decode the elements common to all.  Boiled down, a lawsuit involves the following five primary phases: (1) Pleadings; (2) Discovery; (3) Pre-trial Preparation and/or Alternative Dispute Resolution; (4) Trial; and (5) Post-Trial.  Please take note that for the purposes of this series, we will not delve into the appellate process, which occurs if one or both litigants (i.e., the parties involved in the lawsuit) elects to appeal a judgment or order of the Court.


A lawsuit begins when an individual or entity (such as a corporation) files a Complaint.  All lawsuits involve disputes among “parties,” which refers, collectively, to the Plaintiff and Defendant.  As their names suggest, the party who files the Complaint is called “Plaintiff,” and the responding party is called “Defendant.” 

The Complaint describes in broad strokes what the dispute between the parties is about, and typically sets out various legal or equitable “claims.”  Once the Complaint is served on the Defendant, the Defendant has twenty (20) days to file an Answer to the Complaint.  The Defendant, however, is not limited to only playing defense, it has the right to pursue a Counterclaim against the Plaintiff, if the Counterclaim is related to the Complaint.  

When a Plaintiff sues multiple Defendants, the Defendants can assert Cross-Claims against each other to shift potential liability.  If a Defendant believes another party is responsible for the dispute, but that party is not already a Defendant in the lawsuit, then the Defendant can file a Third-Party Complaint to bring in the absent party, thereafter called a “Third-Party Defendant.”

The pleadings phase typically concludes once all known parties have been served and are properly before the Court.

Robert Klein