A cross-claim is a claim against a party on the same side of a lawsuit which arises from the matter being tried in court. This is in contrast with a counterclaim, in which a claim is made against another party in a suit. There are a number of situations in which a cross-claim might be filed. The ability to litigate cross-claims at the same time as the original claim allows for a more efficient process because a new trial does not need to be held.
In an example of how a cross-claim might work, a patient might sue a doctor, a hospital, and a manufacturer of medical devices for a hip replacement which went wrong. The patient is the plaintiff, while the doctor, hospital, and manufacturer are co-defendants or co-respondents. As the case unfolds, the doctor and hospital might determine that the problem is the result of an action on the part of the manufacturer, in which case they could file a cross-claim against the manufacturer, their co-respondent, arguing that the liability lies with the manufacturer.
One reason for cross-claims to arise is a case in which a plaintiff is not certain about where responsibility lies, and thus files a blanket claim against several parties. As the case develops, these parties can file cross-claims against each other when the facts of the case are brought to court and the matter becomes clearer. A cross-claim may also be filed as a result of a dispute or problem with the case.
Co-plaintiffs can also file against each other. Conversely, a situation can arise in which counterclaims are filed. In the example above, for instance, the hospital could file a counterclaim against the plaintiff for defamation, arguing that the way in which the case is being presented is hurting the hospital's reputation.
Filing cross-claims and counterclaims can be an important part of the process in a civil suit. While the case may look to bystanders like a confused thicket of claims, trying all of the claims at once allows the court to review the facts once and determine a verdict, and for the verdict to be consistent. Not filing a cross-claim or counterclaim at the time of the case does not prevent someone from filing a claim in the future, and people may hold off on such claims for a variety of reasons. Attorneys can advise their clients after reviewing the specifics of the case in question.