What Does a Personal Injury Complaint Look Like?
A personal injury complaint is a formal notice to the defendant that the injured person, or complainant, intends to seek damages for the harm the defendant allegedly caused. A personal injury complaint kicks off the lawsuit of an injured person. It is comprised of multiple paragraphs, each numbered and containing an allegation to which the defendant must answer. The complaint also stops any statute of limitations from running.
A personal injury complaint, very generally, states the injuries that the victim allegedly received, the defendants that allegedly caused the harm, how the victim sustained the injury, the legal basis for the complaint, and the number of damages to which the complainant claims they are entitled. Legal complaints are official and lawfully written according to certain legal rules.
Here are just some of the topics a complaint must contain:
In the first few paragraphs, the complainant needs to state why the particular state, county, and court should hear their case. This is called “jurisdiction.” The proper jurisdiction is determined by looking at both the facts of the case and how they fit in with the jurisdictional statutes. The jurisdiction, or place, in which the complaint is filed usually depends on where the injury occurred, where the complainant lives, where the defendant lives and, sometimes, the amount for which the complainant issuing. These factors are normally codified in either state statutes (and sometimes federal statutes) or court rules. Whatever rule or statute upon which the complainant is depending to determine jurisdiction must be cited in the complaint.
Here is an example of jurisdictional paragraphs:
- “The defendant resides in Hamilton County, Tennessee. The incident complained of herein occurred in Hamilton County, Tennessee. Therefore, jurisdiction in this court is proper.”
This part of the complaint allows the complainant to explain how the injury occurred and why the defendant is negligent and responsible. A good lawyer begins advocating for the complainant’s side in the factual allegations.
Factual allegations do not have to be extremely specific or numerous. However, they do need to clearly state the facts surrounding the actual injury. However, the complainant never wants to include too many factual statements in the complaint. This is because the complainant might find later that the evidence does not shape-up to fit very specific allegations. Factual allegations should tell the complainant’s story without boxing them in or allowing the defendant too much breathing room.
Here is an example of a well-stated factual allegation:
- The defendant negligently failed to yield to oncoming traffic and, as a result, struck the complainant’s vehicle.
Just getting hurt is not enough to recover damages. The plaintiff must allege that they have a legal right to the damages they claim are due from the defendant. Legal allegations are divided into sections called “counts.” Each count represents a different legal basis for recovery.
A personal injury complaint must at least include a claim that the defendant exhibited negligence and violated a duty owed to the complainant. An example of an allegation of a negligent count might be:
- The defendant owed the complainant a duty of due care in the operation of their motor vehicle. The defendant violated this duty by following too closely.
As one can see, legal allegations are simply an application of the law to the facts of a particular case, showing how the defendant violated a legal duty. Negligence allegations must state the defendant’s duty under the law, how the defendant breached the duty, how the breach of duty caused injury to the complainant and how the breach of duty damaged the complainant.
The formal complaint in a personal injury case is filed with the court and served on the defendant. It starts a personal injury lawsuit and is one of the single most important documents filed in any lawsuit.