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Last Modified: December 28, 2022


Black’s Legal Dictionary gives the technical legal definition of complaint: “the first or initiatory pleading on the part of the plaintiff in a civil action… [intended] to give [the] defendant information of all [the] material facts on which [the] plaintiff relies to support his demand.” It must identify both parties, the court’s jurisdiction, a numbered list of claims against the defendant, and what the plaintiff proposes as a proper relief from these claimsNolo’s Dictionary defines it simply as “papers filed in court by an injured party to begin a lawsuit by setting out facts and legal claims.” The plaintiff files the complaint and the defendant must respond to it by filing an answer. If the defendant fails to reply, then the judge may give a final judgement awarding the plaintiff the amount requested in the complaint. In other words, complaints are written notices designed to inform both the court and the defendant that 1) a person is seeking compensation through a lawsuit and 2) how this person will seek for it.

Example Sentence

After attempts at mediation and arbitration had come to naught, Jessica finally filed a formal complaint against her insurance company.

Case Study

Sick of her insurance company refusing to answer her calls or give her a straight answer, Olive hired an attorney to help her receive the amount of money the insurance company promised in their policy. Her accident had led to expensive medical bills and her insurance refused to pay for it. Her attorney gathered all of the necessary documentation and tried to work with the insurance company to settle. However, when they refused to work with him, he filed an official complaint to the civil court. In this complaint, the attorney listed all of the reasons why Olive decided to sue the company and what she should receive as a just compensation. Her insurance responded to the complaint by finally offering a settlement amount that could actually help Olive with all of her bills.

Other Important Information

To file a complaint, a person must include:

  1. the law that the person claims was broken,
  2. factual evidence of this violation, and
  3. factual evidence that the violation caused the injury.

Plaintiffs must file the complaint within a certain amount of time after the injury, known as the statute of limitationsDefendants may file a cross-complaint, which allows them to sue the plaintiff for something related to the same incident. Other helpful information follows below.

  • A list of fees for filing complaints, etc. can be found here. The judge may waive the fees if the plaintiff cannot pay them.
  • A person may file a complaint to enforce an order 30 or more days after giving notice of her intent.
  • An employee filing a complaint against his employer is immune from consequences from the employer, including being fired.
  • Information on how to file an answer to a complaint or file a cross-complaint can be found on Utah State Courts’ page.