The plaintiff (the person initiating the complaint) must file and serve a complaint letter to begin civil action, such as a personal injury case. This complaint is a legal document that begins a lawsuit and informs the defendant (the person responsible for your accident or injuries) of the case against them. This process can quickly become confusing, potentially bringing on delays and unexpected turns that make it difficult to manage on your own.
However, knowing the process and what it entails can prove beneficial. In addition, you may want to hire a personal injury attorney, who will draft all the legal documents necessary, and can be an asset throughout the process.
How to File a Complaint
Although each state’s process varies, having a general idea of what to expect can help you better prepare. These steps are usually common practice:
The Initiation of the Complaint
Every civil action begins with a complaint (the claim you have against the responsible party), as well as a summons (a legal demand for the responsible party to appear in court). Depending on your state’s laws, the plaintiff (you) will file the complaint with the court or send it to the other party.
Then, if you are the one filing the lawsuit, your legal team will pay a filing fee and inform the defendant that they have a lawsuit against them. Usually, civil action begins once the defendant is “served” with the summons and complaint.
Waiting for the Other Party’s Response
The defendant has a specific amount of time to respond to the complaint. Again, this time frame varies on state law. Their answer should include which parts of the complaint they admit to or deny. They might address their defense to the allegations in addition to potential complaints they have against you.
Should the defendant fail to answer the complaint within the given deadline, the court might make a default judgment against them. This would it would be an inquest instead of a trial – – meaning there is no jury, but the evidence would be presented in front of a judge who would then award damages.
Once the defendant responds to the complaint, both parties will exchange documents and other key information. This process is referred to as discovery. Some examples include:
- Interrogatories (written questions)
- Document production
- Deposition (transcribed and sworn statements taken before a court reporter or officer)
The information from discovery can serve as trial evidence. However, not all personal injury cases go to trial, as both parties may be able to reach a settlement through a dispute resolution.
Furthermore, some states require civil actions to go through some type of dispute resolution before going to trial.
If the parties cannot reach a resolution or the case was not dismissed, they will proceed to a trial. The parties can decide whether they want to go before a jury or only a judge.
During the trial, attorneys representing both sides will show evidence, examine and cross-examine witnesses, and present their client’s case. After the closing arguments, the jury or judge will decide the case. Depending on the outcome, the judge or jury will award your compensation.
How long this process takes relies on the facts of the case, how many parties are involved, and how cooperative each side is, among other factors. Should the parties come to an agreement in mediation, you may receive a settlement. It’s often difficult to estimate how long your case will take. Some cases resolve fairly quickly, even within a few months of filing a claim. However, many cases can take several years.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You With Your Case
Figuring out the process of filing and serving a complaint letter can be difficult enough on its own. However, going up against giant insurance companies and lawyers can make the process all the more confusing. To save yourself time and stress, you may want to consider hiring an attorney. On your behalf, they can:
- Gather various pieces of evidence that identify the liable party or parties, as well as demonstrate the damages you can recover
- Compose, file, and serve your complaint letter against the defendant
- Handle all communication and correspondence with the other party, their legal team and insurance company, and the court
- Represent you throughout all legal proceedings, including discovery, mediation, arbitration, and trial, if necessary
- Negotiate for a financial outcome that accounts for all of your damages
Many personal injury firms take cases on a contingency fee, meaning they won’t ask for any payment by the hour, out of pocket, or upfront. They only receive an attorney’s fee after they recover compensation for you.
Shulman & Hill Can File and Serve a Complaint Letter for You
A personal injury lawyer from Shulman & Hill can help you start your civil action by filing and serving a complaint letter against the other party. You can rely on them to represent you throughout all proceedings. Contact us today at 212.221.1000 for your free consultation.