How to Write a Complaint

By Contributor

Every lawsuit begins with a single legal document: a type of pleading called a complaint. A complaint is what a plaintiff files to lay out the reasons that the lawsuit is being filed, the facts of the case, and the cause of action -- the legal reason for suing -- so that both the defendant and the judge know. If you have tried to settle a legal issue unsuccessfully and you are ready to take matters into your own hands, you must write a complaint.

Make a visit to your local courthouse and ask for the clerk of the court if there is a form you must use for filing a lawsuit. If there is, grab a few copies of the blank form to take home. Remember that the clerk cannot offer you any legal advice, so they won't be able to explain how the form should be filled out or what you should write in the blanks.

Create a dated outline of the facts leading to the incident, of the incident itself, and anything that happened after the incident that is relevant to the case.

The Preliminary Statement is the very beginning of your complaint. This is where you state the basic, undisputed facts: the name of the plaintiff or plaintiffs (your name, and any other plaintiff involved), the name of the defendant or the defendants, the name and location of where the incident happened, and the date and time the incident took place. Each fact you write down should be numbered.

The Statement of Facts should be a short summary of more specific facts about the incident. Include information about what took place leading up to the incident, how the incident occurred, and what happened after the incident. Be very clear and concise, and include dates, times, and exact locations when possible.

After the Statement of Facts comes the "meat" of the complaint. This is where you spell out every single thing that happened, naming dates, times, incidents, witnesses, persons involved, and anything else you can think of. This is where you get down to the nitty-gritty of your case.

Statement of Damages

This is the end of your complaint, where you give the full amount of damages you are seeking as a result of the incident. This will be a simple, one-line statement.

Sign and date your complaint. You should also include your mailing address and contact information for the defendant and the court to utilize. Once you have signed your complaint -- and attached any exhibits, if you have any -- you're finished.

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