How to Sue for Negligence

Personal injury lawyers handle negligence cases.
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Generally, a party can sue you if your careless behavior causes another party bodily injury, property damage or death. Judges and juries can award compensation in negligence cases for actual losses and, depending on state law, compensation can include money for physical pain and suffering, emotional damages and lost wages.

Specific Allegations

There are four components, or elements, to a negligence claim: duty of care, breach of duty, causation and damages. A plaintiff, the party who suing, must draft a court complaint that alleges all four elements and provides a brief statement of facts tying the elements to the case. For example, a complaint may state that the defendant had a duty to drive carefully, breached his duty by running a stop sign, causing damage to the plaintiff's car. Generally, the party suing must provide each allegation in separate, numbered paragraphs in the complaint.

General Requirements

A complaint for negligence must state general information about the lawsuit. For example, it must provide the parties' names as well as the cities, counties and states in which they reside. It should state the court in which the plaintiff is filing and the compensation he seeks, such as lost wages and medical bills in the amount of $5,000. The plaintiff, or her attorney, must sign and date the complaint. Complaints are typically filed in the county where the defendant lives, or where the alleged negligence act occurred.


A summons is a form provided by the court that the suing party must be complete and file with his complaint. The court obtains the power to hear the suing party's dispute when he submits the summons to the clerk with the proper filing fee. The clerk signs and seals it, and assigns a docket number and judge. The summons is served on the defendant to notify him that he is being sued, while providing him with important information such as court dates and deadlines for filings.


Generally, a summons and complaint are hand-served on a defendant by a court officer, process server or sheriff, but a neutral third party may also serve them in most cases. Defendants must answer a complaint alleging negligence based on deadlines or statutes of limitations set by state law. For example, in Michigan, the defendant generally has 21 days to answer, while in California, a defendant has 30 days to answer a civil complaint. If a defendant fails to answer in the allotted time limit, the judge can issue a default judgment granting the plaintiff an automatic win. If the defendant files an answer, the discovery process begins, allowing the parties to gather evidence to prepare their cases for trial. Parties may also make motions and request hearings on various matters for a judge's ruling prior to trial.

Limitations on Cases

State laws can limit the amount of the plaintiff's recovery if she is partly at fault for the damages. For example, a plaintiff in Alabama is barred from filing a negligence action if she shares any fault in an accident. Other states, such as Arizona, reduce a plaintiff's compensation if she is partly to blame. States also limit the time for filing negligence actions. For example, Washington generally allows plaintiffs three years to file from the date negligence occurs. Alabama has a shorter, two-year statute of limitations for negligence claims.