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What is a Complaint?

What is a Complaint?

What is a Complaint? What does it do? And how does it impact my case?

These are great questions that our clients often ask us, especially if their cases may be headed for litigation. At its most basic level, a complaint is a type of legal document called a pleading. Pleadings are documents filed at the beginning of a case to essentially explain your side of the story. A complaint gives notice to the other parties about why you believe someone owes you financial compensation or some specific action. A complaint usually breaks down into the following sections: (1) the introduction, (2) the parties and jurisdiction, (3) the factual allegations, and (4) the causes of action.[1]


While not technically required by the Rules of Civil Procedure, at the Cheney Galluzzi & Howard Law Firm, we begin our complaints with a short introduction. An introduction hooks the reader and makes your case more interesting. In car crash cases, for example, we often open with the line “[t]he human body is not designed for car crashes” with a footnote to a CNN story on the topic. To be persuasive, you want the reader to understand your theory of the case in just a few sentences. Without an introduction, you miss an important chance to connect with the reader.

The Parties and Jurisdiction

Following a brief introduction, we move on to some short sentences regarding the parties, jurisdiction, and venue. Specifically, we have to list out all of the parties (the people doing the suing and the people being sued) and state whether they are a person or entity and where they reside. Next, we have to set out the facts that establish “jurisdiction” and “venue.” Jurisdiction means the power to make legal decisions regarding a case. So we have to establish in your complaint that the court has jurisdiction, i.e., the power to hear this particular kind of case. Finally, we have to explain why the venue we have chosen is proper. Venue means the county or district where a legal case may be heard.

Factual Allegations

This section is the meat and potatoes of a complaint. In the old days, this section was usually very short because the law only required “notice pleading.” With a notice pleading, you only had to say enough to give notice to the person you were suing of the reason why they were being sued. So you may have said (1) I was in a car accident on X date, (2) you were at fault, and (3) I was injured. But a few years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that complaints must do more than give notice—they must set out a plausible fact pattern under which the plaintiff could win the lawsuit. Our complaints are fairly detailed. We will explain what happened, how you were impacted, and detail the medical care you received. The Defendant, in turn, will file an “answer” our complaint and must admit each allegation, deny each allegation, or state that he or she does not have enough information to answer. Because of this, a good complaint will usually only contain one “fact” per allegation so that we know exactly what the other side is admitting or denying.

Causes of Action

After we have set out all the relevant facts in your case, the next section explains our causes of action. A cause of action is simply the legal theory that enables us to recover. In most car crash cases, the cause of action is usually negligence or negligence per se. In contract cases, it may be breach of contract or breach of a warranty. There are dozens of causes of actions out there. Many of them come from English common law. There is no limit to the number of causes of actions that can be brought in one case, and we usually plead all of them that fit your case. At the very end of the complaint, there is a section called the “prayer for relief,” in which we ask the court to award you things like damages, interest on those damages, court costs, and sometimes attorney fees (attorney fees are only available in certain types of cases).

We hope this answers your question, “What is a Complaint?”. If you or someone you know has been injured in a car crash, call one of the lawyers at Cheney Galluzzi & Howard today. Life happens. We can help.

[1] C.R.C.P. 8 requires that a complaint contain 1) “a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court’s jurisdiction depends; (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for judgment for the relief to which the pleader claims to be entitled.” (the jurisdiction, facts, and causes of action).