What is a Complaint?
In a New Jersey personal injury case, the lawsuit begins when the plaintiff files a Complaint with the Court.
The Complaint will name the defendants that are being sued and it will state the allegations against the defendants.
The Court will give the Complaint a docket number.
After the Complaint has a docket number, the plaintiff’s lawyer will prepare a Summons for each defendant.
The Complaint and the Summons are then served on the defendants.
The defendant, usually through its insurance company, will hire a lawyer to serve an Answer to the Complaint.
Does anything else get filed with the Complaint?
In New Jersey, the plaintiff needs to file a Case Information Statement (C.I.S):
The C.I.S. gives the Clerk the information the Clerk needs to assign the case to a certain track within the court system.
The Complaint must also contain a statement that tells the court whether there are any other actions or lawsuits that resulted from the incident that caused the plaintiff’s injury.
How long does the defendant have to file an Answer?
The defendant has 35 days to respond to the Complaint.
Because of delays in contacting insurance companies and hiring a lawyer, the defendant often files an Answer after the 35-day time limit. In that situation, the lawyers will usually give an extension for time to file the Answer.
If the defendant fails to file an Answer or Motion after many weeks, the plaintiff can file a motion for default. In car accident and truck crash cases, the plaintiff’s attorney will often file a motion with the court that requests permission to serve the Complaint on the insurance company when the driver has not responded to the Complaint.
When should the Complaint be filed?
The Complaint needs to be filed within the Statute of Limitations. In most New Jersey cases, the Statute of Limitations is 2 years from the date of injury.
However, some Complaints cannot be filed unless a Notice of Claim was served on the defendant at an earlier time. Those cases involve situations where the potential defendant is a state or municipal entity.
When the plaintiff is a minor and/or incompetent, the Statute of Limitations is tolled.
In some situations, such as a missed cancer diagnosis, the Statute of Limitations might not run until the time the patient knew or should have suspected the injury.
You must consult a personal injury as soon as possible after your injury to avoid pitfalls that will bar your case.
Does the Complaint need to include everything that happened?
No. New Jersey is a “notice pleading” state. That means that the Complaint must include enough information for the defendant to know why the defendant is being sued.
What if the Complaint has a mistake or doesn’t include a defendant?
If the Complaint needs to be corrected, the plaintiff can request the court to allow the plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint.
If the time for the Statute of Limitations has not run, a plaintiff can amend the Complaint. In New Jersey, it gets difficult if you need to add a new defendant and the Statute of Limitations has already run. That is what many lawyers include the names of extra fictitious defendants when they file the original Complaint.
Are all the Complaints the same in all personal injury cases?
A New Jersey personal injury complaint will be slightly different depending on what caused the injury. Look at some of these samples:
- New Jersey Truck Crash Complaint
- New Jersey Trip and Fall Complaint
- New Jersey Medical Malpractice Complaint