The complaint is the first step in any personal injury lawsuit. Filed by the injured party (the plaintiff), the complaint sets out the core facts of the case, like the names of the people involved, the circumstances of the plaintiff’s injury, and the plaintiff’s legal theory as to why the person being sued (the defendant) is legally liable for the plaintiff’s costs associated with the injury (in legal terms, the plaintiff’s damages). Here we step back from the dry details of a complaint to look at how the core features of a complaint work.
The elements of a Nevada personal injury complaint
- The names of the parties.
A complaint begins by providing the names of every plaintiff and each defendant subject to the complaint. Multiple plaintiffs often join in a single complaint when their injuries were caused by the same accident, such as the driver and passenger in an auto accident. Likewise, multiple defendants may be involved where the legal liability is, or may be, spread between them. For example, both the owner of a building and the management company responsible for its upkeep might share responsibility for not fixing a dangerous staircase.
- The facts of the injury.
A complaint must describe the plaintiff’s version of the facts surrounding the injuries to give the court an opportunity to verify that the basic features of a legal case are present. In a typical personal injury case, that means providing enough detail to show several things. First, the plaintiff must provide sufficient information to support the legal rule (or rules) that the plaintiff will use to show the defendant’s liability. Second, the plaintiff must describe the nature of the injury. And third, the complaint needs to describe the damages that the plaintiff has suffered as a consequence of the injury, such as medical expenses or lost wages. At this stage of a personal injury suit, damages are often still accruing, so it’s sufficient to claim that damages exceed the threshold amount required by court procedures.
- Setting out the legal theory of the case.
A complaint also needs to show that the plaintiff has at least one sound legal basis for suing the defendant, which involves reciting the elements of the legal rule and describing how the facts support each element.
For example, a personal injury complaint almost always involves some form of negligence, which in Nevada has four elements:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care. A duty of care is a legal obligation created by statute or judicial precedent, and can be based on the relationship of the parties (for example, landlord-tenant, employer-employee) or the activity involved in the injury (for example, drivers owe each other a duty to comply with traffic laws).
- The defendant breached its duty of care.
- The defendant’s breach of its duty of care was the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury. The facts in the complaint must draw a clear line between the defendant’s actions and the harm suffered by the plaintiff. This can be relatively simple in some cases, like a car accident in which a defendant ran a red light. But it can be more complicated in other cases, like those involving cancer that only appears years or decades after exposure to a carcinogen.
- The plaintiff has suffered damages as a result of the injury. Essentially, if the plaintiff didn’t suffer damages, the lawsuit can’t do anything to make the plaintiff whole. The complaint must describe the nature, if not the exact dollar amount, of the damages for which the plaintiff seeks compensation.
Naturally, a personal injury lawsuit can involve other legal theories beside negligence. Wrongful death medical malpractice, and product liability are common causes of action that arise in connection with personal injuries, alongside negligence or instead of it. Each legal theory has its own elements and factual requirements.
The practical side of filing a complaint in Las Vegas
Personal injury lawsuits in Las Vegas that involve more the $10,000 in damages get filed with the Eighth Judicial District Court. Every party to the suit must comply with the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of the District Courts of the State of Nevada, which among other things describe the physical requirements of court filings.
After the complaint is filed with the court, the court will order that the defendant be served with the complaint and a summons to appear before the court. The plaintiff is responsible for serving the defendant with the summons, which must be delivered in compliance with the rules of civil procedure for the lawsuit to go forward. Bear in mind that Nevada has a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits.
Work with a personal injury lawyer to draft your complaint
GGRM has been committed to serving the Las Vegas community for over 45 years. We take pride in our personal approach to every client, which starts with a careful analysis of the facts of the case to ensure that the initial complaint not only meets technical standards but also preserves our clients’ legal options. For a no-cost consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney call us today at 702-388-4476, or reach us through our contact page.