Civil Court and Car Accidents: Starting Your Case

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While many people may be familiar with the concept of a court trial, there is a lot that goes on beforehand that can have a serious impact on how things play out when you come before a judge. This is especially true for automobile accidents. Understanding the initial process of a case can not only help you get a better understanding of the legal process, but can also help you better work with your attorney.

The Complaint

Before anything can happen in court, there must be notice provided to the court that there is a claim. This is done through the “complaint” made by the plaintiff. In a complaint, the plaintiff will lay out every element of the case that is being made against the opposing side. In addition, the plaintiff will identify the relevant parties in the case, state the facts on which the claim is being made, and then lay out the support for the elements of each claim. It is important to keep in mind that multiple claims can be made in a single suit. For example, in a typical auto accident case, some claims that are brought include:

  • an action for negligence;
  • pain and suffering;
  • negligent infliction of emotional distress; and,
  • wrongful death.

The lawsuit will only begin once the complaint has been filed with the court. In doing so, it is important to be aware of any statutes of limitations or legal restrictions that may prohibit a plaintiff from bringing an action.


Once the court clerk has filed the complaint, the next step involves notifying the defendant of the suit. This is done when the court clerk prepares “process,” which contains the papers that will be served on a defendant. Generally, process will include a copy of the complaint, as well as a summons requiring an answer. While the court clerk prepares the process, it is the responsibility of the plaintiff to “serve,” or deliver, the papers on the defendant. While the rules prohibit plaintiffs from serving defendants in person, there are several options available, ranging from the local sheriff or constable, to individuals who will serve papers on a defendant for a fee, known as “process servers.”  


After receiving a complaint, a defendant will generally have 30 days to respond, typically through what is known as an “answer.” In the answer, a defendant will raise all legal defenses available in response to the allegations made against him in the complaint. It is important to note that any defenses not made in the answer will be deemed to be waived, so defendants will typically use every defense available, even if it may seem like it does not relate to the case.


Once the answer has been filed with the court the pretrial process will begin. At this point the case proceeds to the discovery phase, in which parties exchange information and evidence through a variety of means, including:

  • interrogatories (written questions);
  • depositions (verbal questioning); and,
  • document requests.

Interestingly enough, while the case is already in motion at this point, both parties are free to agree to settle the case outside of court, which would result in the dismissal of the case in court.

Contact an Attorney

As with most things, the legal process has its own order and procedure that must be followed throughout the case. While it is possible for individuals to file their own cases, the benefits of an experienced attorney are immeasurable. If you are looking for a dedicated, experienced attorney, contact the David Aylor Law Offices for a free case evaluation.

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