Find out the steps you need to take to get your personal injury lawsuit started
So, you or a loved one suffered a serious injury and your medical bills are piling up.
Is there anything you can do?
If someone else is to blame for your injury, a personal injury lawsuit might be appropriate. Personal injury lawsuits are intended to return injured parties to the financial position they were in before the injury occurred.
In Indiana, most personal injury lawsuits must be filed within 2 years of the date of the accident. With that deadline in mind, let’s take a look at the steps you need to take to file a lawsuit in the Hoosier State.
Step 1: Establish legal standing
In order to file a lawsuit in Indiana (or any other state), you must have legal standing. To establish legal standing, you must show that:
- You have the legal capacity to file a lawsuit. Children under age 18 and adults who are mentally incompetent don’t have the legal capacity to file a lawsuit. However, someone who has legal capacity can file a lawsuit on behalf of the person who doesn’t have legal capacity.
- You suffered actual harm. You can’t file a lawsuit on behalf of your mentally competent neighbor who was wrongfully evicted from her apartment, nor can you file a lawsuit asking for damages because you fear your neighbor’s dog might bite you. To establish standing, YOU must have personally suffered some ACTUAL harm.
- The injury can be reasonably traced to the defendant. In order to file a lawsuit against a defendant, there must be some causal connection between the injury and the action (or inaction) of the defendant. In other words, you can’t sue the actor Brad Pitt if you were injured in an accident with your local veterinarian Sarah Smith.
- The court can provide relief. The court must be capable of providing some relief that would remedy the harm you suffered.
Step 2: Hire a personal injury lawyer near you
Once you’ve established that you have legal standing to file a lawsuit, you should consult with an experienced attorney. Most initial consultations are free and all of them are confidential. During the initial consultation, the attorney can help you determine whether you have a legitimate claim and whether you actually need a lawyer.
Choosing a lawyer is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. Lawsuits often involve highly personal matters and can drag on for years. It’s important to hire a competent attorney who will go after the compensation you deserve, but it’s also important to hire a compassionate and communicative attorney who won’t make the process more stressful than it already is.
Step 3: Determine where to file your lawsuit
Indiana’s trial courts are courts of “general jurisdiction,” which means they have the power to hear any civil (or criminal) case. The vast majority of personal injury cases are heard in trial courts.
In Indiana, there are 2 kinds of trial courts:
- Circuit courts. Every county in Indiana has at least 1 circuit court.
- Superior courts. Most counties in Indiana have a superior court in addition to a circuit court.
Though the courts have different names, there is no significant difference between circuit courts and superior courts.
What about small claims court?
If the total damages you’re seeking don’t exceed $6,000 (or $8,000 in Marion County), then you can file your lawsuit in small claims court. Small claims courts are informal proceedings. The Indiana Rules of Evidence don’t apply, nor do the Indiana Rules of Procedure. You simply fill out a form explaining your issue and both sides have an opportunity to argue their case in front of a judge.
Small claims courts have nominal filing fees and are a good option for people who want to resolve their claims inexpensively without hiring an attorney.
You can learn more about the rules that apply to small claims cases and watch a video discussing what you need to know about representing yourself in an Indiana small claims court on the Indiana Judicial Branch’s Small Claims website.
The term “venue” refers to the geographic location where you will file your case. In most personal injury lawsuits, you can file your lawsuit:
- In the county where the defendant lives, or
- In the county where the accident occurred.
Let’s take a look at an example:
In this scenario, you could either file your lawsuit in Boone County Superior Court (where the defendant lives) or Marion County Superior Court (where the accident occurred). Unfortunately, you cannot file your lawsuit in Warrick County (where you live).
Step 4: File and serve your complaint
A civil action isn’t officially commenced until you:
- File a complaint with the proper court and pay the associated filing fee, and
- Serve the defendant with a copy of the complaint and summons.
A complaint sets forth the facts of your case, the defendant’s liability, and how much money you’re demanding. A summons is simply a document that notifies the defendant that they’re being sued.
You can file a complaint by any means described in Rule 5(f) of the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure:
- In-person delivery to the clerk of the court
- Via fax to the clerk of the court (if the court has approved filings via fax)
- By registered, certified, or express mail to the clerk with return receipt requested
- Electronic filing as approved by the Indiana Office of Judicial Administration
You can serve a copy of the complaint and summons on the defendant by any means described in Rule 5(b) of the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure:
- Hand delivery
- Service by mail
- Service by fax or email (if consented to)
The Indiana workers’ compensation system is intended to provide benefits to workers for work-related injuries.
In most situations, your only remedy for a work-related injury is to file a workers’ compensation claim. There are a few narrow circumstances in which you might also be able to file a third-party lawsuit.