How to File a Personal Injury Lawsuit (Without a Lawyer)

If you’ve been a victim of a car accident or have suffered another injury, you may be motivated to file a personal injury claim against someone or some organization. You may also be thinking about filing the claim yourself instead of using a lawyer.

If you’re considering filing a civil lawsuit yourself, this post will help your understand the basics of filing the lawsuit with the Sacramento court system.

How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit?

In the state of California, the statute of limitations is 2 years for a personal injury claim. This means that you, the Plaintiff, have 2 years  to either settle your lawsuit or file a complaint for personal injury damages in court.

How Do I Know Where to File my Lawsuit?

You must file your lawsuit in the county in which the accident occurred. The police report that you hopefully hopefully have from your accident will tell you which county. If you don’t have a police report, look at the direct location of the accident to determine the county.

Do I Have to Use an Attorney to File a Lawsuit?

The short answer is no. But, as you will see below, the process, forms and expenses can be daunting. Often injured parties choose to use a qualified personal injury attorney because they simply don’t have the time and expertise to navigate the complexities of the court system.

If I Don’t Use an Attorney, What Forms Do I Need?

If however, you wish to review the forms and fill them out on your own, they are available free of charge at California Courts forms download page.

Civil Lawsuit Forms Download California Courts

Once here, you would select the pull-down bar for Pleading – General, then select “see forms.” From here, you can look at forms either by number or name.

Forms Needed for Filing a Personal Injury Suit

The forms you will need for an accident with injury and/or property damage are the following:

Summons, Form #SUM-100

Civil Case Cover Sheet, Form #CM-010

Complaint – Personal Injury, Property Damage, Wrongful Death, Form #PLD-PI-001

Cause of Action – Motor Vehicle, Form # PLD-PI-001(1)

Cause of Action – General Negligence, Form #PLD-PI-001(2)

Alternative Dispute Resolution Information Package must be served in ALL cases

Stipulation and Order to Mediation (CV-E-179) must be served on any Unlimited Civil Case

If you decide NOT to use Judicial Council forms, you have the option to submit your complaint on pleading paper following the rules outlined in California Rules of Court, Rule 2.100.

What are the Rules I Need to Know When Filing a Lawsuit?

Every county has their own set of rules when filing a civil suit. The local rules for Sacramento County can be found on the Sacramento Superior Court website.  The Sacramento County court filing instructions page is filled with great information on the procedures for filing a civil lawsuit in in Sacramento county.

For example, without this information, you would not realize that Sacramento County no longer accepts over-the-counter filings. Now you must actually complete the Sacramento Superior Court – Civil Document Drop-Off Sheet , attach your fee and drop in a large metal container for new filings.

Find Out About the Status of Your Filing
Sacramento courts civil documents processing dates

If you are curious about the status of your filing, you can go to the  Civil Document Processing Dates website on the Sacramento Courts website. In the the upper right corner you’ll see this beige box filled with dates.

How Much Does it Cost to File a Lawsuit?

In 2005, the California instituted a statewide fee schedule so that almost all counties (with only a few exceptions) could follow the same fee structure.

At the time of this writing fees for civil personal injury cases are the following:

  • Limited Civil Case (Seeking settlements less than $10,000) – $225
  • Limited Civil Case (Seeking settlements greater than $10,000 but less than $25,000) – $370
  • Unlimited Civil Case (Seeking settlements greater than $25,000) –  $435

The court accepts checks and credit cards to process your fees.

Make sure to check the fee schedule every January and July because that’s when fee changes tend to occur.

Waiving Court Fees

For those who meet the criteria, a fee waiver may be available for some or all of the fees associated with filing your case. In order to make a request to have your fees waived, you need to complete, file and submit the following documents to the Superior Court. It is up to the court to decide.

Request to Waive Court Fees, Form #FW-001

Order on Court Fee Waiver, Form #FW-003

Request to Waive Additional Court Fees (if you need to make a subsequent request), Form #FW-002.

What Happens After I File the Suit?

Once you file a lawsuit, the court assigns you a case number and a judge. An initial Case Management Conference is also scheduled.

At that point, you will need to serve all the filed and required documents to the Defendant in your case.  An experienced process server will complete a form called the Proof of Service and file it in the Superior Court for you. Typically a process server will charge anywhere from $25.00 to $75.00 to serve. This amount will go up based upon the difficulty in serving the Defendant, such as trying to locate a Defendant, serving a Defendant who does not want to be served or who evades, or serving a Defendant who works arbitrary hours necessitating multiple attempts.

You can find process servers in Sacramento on Serve Now.

Once a Defendant is served, he or she has 30 days to respond with an Answer. It must be filed in the Superior Court and served by mail to you or your attorney. From there, it’s possible that a case will settle, but it’s also possible that the Defendant’s insurance company will utilize their in-house attorneys to fight the lawsuit which could lead to court dates and requests for documents.


As you can see, the process to file a civil lawsuit is complex, tedious and expensive. But it can be done by yourself if you’re careful, meticulous and patient. Documents can actually be rejected by the courts if done incorrectly. After reviewing all the forms and rules, injured parties often decide that it’s easier to hire a personal injury attorney who has years of experience dealing with the courts.

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