Steps for Starting Your Car Accident Lawsuit
How to Draft a Complaint in Civil Action for Car Accident Lawsuit
This article will explain the three basic elements necessary to draft and file a Complaint in Civil Action regarding car accident lawsuits. Pennsylvania allows injured victims of car accidents to sue for their economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages may include medical bills, lost employment wages and/or any other out of pocket expenses. Non-economic damages may include physical and emotional pain and suffering.
The Pennsylvania statute of limitations to file a car accident lawsuit is two (2) years from the date of the accident. In order to collect monies as a victim of a car accident, it is often necessary to file a Complaint in Civil Action against the responsible party or parties.
Of course every case is unique, and while this article will set forth the basic elements necessary to draft a car accident lawsuit, this article should not be relied on solely for legal advice. For questions or representation for you car accident lawsuit, refer to a trusted lawyer.
A Complaint in Civil Action is the legal document which typically starts a lawsuit. The Complaint must contain three basic elements which include:
- the identity of the parties;
- the factual background concerning the accident; and
- the legal causes of action on which liability is being imposed and request for damages;
Each of the three basic elements necessary for the Complaint is briefly discussed below.
PART I. Identify ALL Of The Parties.
In every civil lawsuit, there is always at least one plaintiff and one or more defendants. The plaintiff is the party filing the lawsuit, and the defendants are accordingly the party or parties against whom monetary damages are being sought. The Complaint in Civil Action requires that the legal name and address be provided for each named party to a lawsuit (plaintiff(s) and defendant(s)). These averments should be numbered in chronological order beginning with paragraph number one. A separate paragraph should be added for each named plaintiff or defendant. It is important that the plaintiff fully investigate any and all responsible parties before filing the lawsuit. For example, in a car accident case, it can often be necessary to name both the driver and the owner of the vehicle as defendants. This is true even when the owner of the vehicle was not involved in the accident itself. Sometimes it is necessary to name multiple different drivers of vehicles. Thoroughly reviewing any and all police reports and accident reconstruction reports will help to ensure that the proper named defendants are included in the lawsuit.
Example of “Parties” for a Car Accident Complaint:
- Plaintiff, Jane Doe is an adult individual with a principal address in Allegheny County, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, at 123 Main Street, Any town, PA 12345 (hereinafter “Plaintiff”).
- Defendant John Smith, Jr. is an adult individual residing in Allegheny County, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at 321 Main Street, Any town, PA 12345 (hereinafter “Defendant Smith, Jr.”).
- Defendant John Smith, Sr. is an adult individual residing in Allegheny County, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at 321 Main Street, Any town, PA 12345 (hereinafter “Defendant Smith, Sr.”).
- Defendant Smith, Sr. is the father of Defendant, Smith, Jr.
PART II. State The Factual Background.
The second section of the Complaint in Civil Action for a car accident lawsuit is the factual background of the accident. This section will also include numbered paragraphs and will provide the chronological history relevant to how the accident occurred. This section, while should be factual in nature, is also typically written in a persuasive manner towards the Plaintiffs. Written police investigation reports can be a useful tool in formulating the factual background. If written properly, the factual background should contain all of the facts necessary to support the legal Causes of Action listed in Section III below. In other words, this section should contain the full and complete factual background and history regarding how the accident occurred. This section may or may not be lengthy in nature. Here is an example of a factual background section from a car accident lawsuit which was filed in Pennsylvania.
Example of Factual Background Section for Car Accident Complaint:
- On or about May 5, 2015, Plaintiff was a passenger in a 2001 Honda CRV owned by Defendant Smith, Sr.
- Defendant Smith, Jr. was driving the vehicle.
- The vehicle was traveling on Interstate I-123 carrying a total of four passengers.
- Plaintiff was the front seat restrained passenger in the vehicle.
- It was daytime and the weather was clear.
- It is believed that Defendants’ vehicle was traveling in excess of the posted speed limit, at approximately eighty (80) miles per hour.
- It is believed that near mile marker 209 Defendant Smith, Jr. attempted to switch lanes to pass another vehicle and failed to see the car in the left lane adjacent to his.
- At this time, Defendant Smith, Jr. swerved to miss said vehicle in the adjacent left lane and overcorrected.
- As a result, the car rolled over at least four times.
- Plaintiff was reportedly in and out of consciousness at the scene of the accident.
- Plaintiff was transported by ambulance to Medical Hospital for further emergency treatment.
- As a direct result of the accident, Plaintiff sustained the following injuries, some or all of which may be permanent in nature:
- Blunt force trauma to the head and concussive related symptoms;
- Cuts and abrasions, including a laceration to her left heel;
- A severe left ear hematoma;
- Scarring and permanent disfigurement;
- Injury with damage to the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, nerves, muscles and/or soft tissues including stiffness, loss of range of motion, soreness, pain, and arthritis; and
- Other severe and/or possible permanent injuries, including PTSD and other emotional issues.
- Plaintiff continues to experience pain and anxiety as a result of the accident which may continue indefinitely into the future.
PART III. State The Legal Causes Of Action.
The third section of the Complaint (“legal causes of action”) will typically be the most difficult for a layperson to write concerning a car accident lawsuit. The legal causes of action include the legal theories as to why the defendant(s) were responsible. Most, but not all car accident lawsuits will include a count for “negligence.” In the simplest of terms, negligence means a breach of a duty of care. For example, we all have a duty to be careful when operating motor vehicles. When we breach that duty, and our actions cause an accident, we are legally responsible for any and all damages under the legal theory of “Negligence.” Caution, it is important to identify specifically each and every way in which a defendant was indeed negligent. These may include but are not limited to, a) failing to stop at a stop sign; b) speeding; c) violation of a Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Statute, and/or d) not paying attention to the circumstances around you. Sometimes negligence can apply to owners of a vehicle through what is called, “negligent entrustment.” This is a separate count and should be pled in the Complaint as a separate and distinct legal cause of action. Before filing a Complaint for a car accident lawsuit, you must investigate specifically each and every way in which the named defendant(s) were responsible for the accident. This will often include proper investigation of facts and events well before the accident ever occurred.
Example of “Legal Causes of Action” for Car Accident Complaint:
COUNT I: NEGLIGENCE As To Defendant Smith, Jr.
- The proceeding paragraphs are herein incorporated by reference.
- Defendant Smith, Jr. had a duty to use caution and care in operating the vehicle owned by his Father, Defendant Smith, Sr.
- Defendant Smith, Jr. should have checked his blind spot for other vehicles before proceeding into the left lane.
- Defendant Smith, Jr. should have operated a vehicle at a safe speed measured at or below the posted speed limit.
- Defendant Smith, Jr. failed to exercise reasonable care to protect Plaintiff and was reckless, careless, and/or negligent in the operation of the vehicle in one or more of the following ways:
- In failing to maintain a safe speed;
- In failing to safely operate her vehicle by failing to check his blind spots before switching lanes;
- In failing to have the vehicle under proper control;
- In failing to keep proper lookout;
- In failing to be attentive to his vehicle and the environment;
- In failing to operate the vehicle’s brakes;
- In excessively swerving or overcorrecting to avoid the other vehicle which resulted in the car flipping;
- In operating his vehicle without due regard to the rights and safety of Plaintiff, who was a passenger;
- In failing to operate the brakes and steering mechanisms of the vehicle in such a manner as to avoid flipping the vehicle four or more times; and/or
- In failing to be careful under the circumstances at that time.
- Because of the foregoing negligent acts and/or omissions, Defendant Smith, Jr. created a dangerous condition for Plaintiff and others on the roadway.
- As a direct and proximate result of Defendant Smith, Jr.’s negligent conduct, as described above, Plaintiff sustained severe and painful injuries, some of which may be permanent, including:
- Blunt force trauma to her head, including concussive related symptoms;
- Various cuts and abrasions, including a laceration to her left heel;
- A severe left ear hematoma;
- Pelvic pain;
- Shoulder pain;
- Chest pain;
- Scarring and permanent disfigurement;
- Injury with damage to the bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, nerves, muscles and/or soft tissues including stiffness, loss of range of motion, soreness, pain, and arthritis;
- Emotion issues, including PTSD; and
- Other severe and/or permanent injuries.
- As a further result of Defendant Smith, Jr.’s negligence and by reason of the injuries sustained, Plaintiff has in the past suffered and will in the future continue to suffer great pain, agony, and mental anguish, including anxiety and nightmares, and will be hindered from attending her daily duties and functions, to her great detriment and loss.
- As a further result of Defendant Smith, Jr.’s negligence, Plaintiff has in the past been and will in the future be obliged to expend various sums of money and/or incur various expenses for the injuries sustained.
- Directly and proximately as a result of the aforesaid negligence of Defendant Smith, Jr., the Plaintiff sustained injuries and is entitled by law to recover for the following damages:
- Compensation for expenses for medical treatment and services from March 8, 2014, until the present and into the future;
- Compensation for past, present, and future pain and suffering;
- Compensation for shock, fright, discomfort, mental anxiety, loss of well-being, and the loss of enjoyment of life, all in the past, present, and future; and
- Compensation for lost wages and future earning potential.
Wherefore, Plaintiff demands judgment be entered in her favor and against Defendant Smith, Jr. in an amount in excess of the compulsory arbitration limits, and other such relief this Court may deem just and appropriate, plus costs of suit.
This second count of negligence will include the allegation of negligent entrustment against the father and owner of the vehicle. It is also pled against the driver.
COUNT II: NEGLIGENCE
As to Defendant Smith, Jr. & Defendant Smith, Sr., jointly and severally.
- The proceeding paragraphs are herein incorporated by reference.
- Defendants had a duty to take reasonable care to prevent the unsafe operation of their vehicle and/or operation by people likely to operate the vehicle in an unreasonably dangerous manner.
- The duty was owed to those who might encounter or be injured by said Defendants’ vehicle, including passengers therein.
- Defendants were negligent, reckless, and/or careless, generally and in the following particulars:
- In entrusting his vehicle to Defendant Smith, Jr. when Defendants knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known that it was not reasonably prudent to do so under the circumstances;
- In entrusting his vehicle to Defendant Smith, Jr. with knowledge that she was a poor driver and unfit to operate said vehicle;
- In failing to realize that Defendant Smith, Jr. was not sufficiently experienced or qualified to safely operate a vehicle; and/or
- In entrusting his vehicle to Defendant Smith, Jr. when Defendants knew or should have known that Defendant Smith, Jr. would operate the vehicle in such as manner as to create an unreasonable risk to others, including Plaintiff.
- As a clear and proximate result of the Defendants’ recklessness, carelessness and/or negligence, Plaintiff sustained the following injuries: etc. (See injuries listed in Count I.)
PART IV. Miscellaneous – What You Still Need To Know.
As stated, this article is only the beginning as there is still much more to be considered when drafting a Complaint in Civil Action for a car accident lawsuit. For example, just to name a few additional considerations:
- The Verification. All complaints in Pennsylvania must contain a verification page signed by the parties. See 231 Pa. Code Rule 1024. The verification is an affidavit signed by a plaintiff or defendant verifying that the facts listed in their legal pleading are true and correct to the best of their knowledge, information and belief. Anyone singing a verification is subject under the penalty of perjury. A complaint in a car accident lawsuit may be dismissed without a proper verification attached.
- The Notice to Defend. See 231 Pa. Code Rule 1018.1. The Notice to Defend is an essential element of any Complaint in Civil Action. It is important to check the local rules of each county as well, as some, but not all of the counties in Pennsylvania have specific Notice to Defend Forms which must be used. Philadelphia County has a Notice to Defend Form which must be sent in both English and Spanish, and failure to comply with the local rule can mean dismissal of the Complaint in Civil Action. The Notice to Defend must also contain the proper lawyer referral contact information.
- Arbitration or General Docket. In Pennsylvania, the civil courts provide an option for victims of car accidents to file suit either in General Docket or Arbitration. The difference has to do with the amount of damages being sought. Each county has different arbitration limits. For example, the arbitration limits in Allegheny County, PA are $35,000. If you are seeking more than $35,000 then you should file your Complaint in the General Docket, and you will have the right to request a judge or jury. If you are seeking less than $35,000, then you may file in Compulsory Arbitration. The Arbitration consists of presenting your case in front of three local lawyers which form an Arbitration panel. Once the panel issues a decision, each party then has thirty days to appeal the arbitration decision to General Docket. The choice to file in General Docket or Arbitration is an important decision that needs to be made prior to filing any Complaint. Also, as with other procedural matters, each County may have its own rules in addition to the Pennsylvania Code on Compulsory Arbitration.
Drafting a car accident lawsuit requires a through investigation of the parties, the legal causes of action, and the damages which were suffered. It is important to include ALL possible defendants in the lawsuit and to research local county rules concerning the Notice to Defend, the Compulsory Arbitration limits, and other local county rules which may apply to your case. For a free legal consultation about a car accident lawsuit in Pennsylvania, please feel free to call Flaherty & Fardo. We’ll help you get the justice you deserve.