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Defending a Lawsuit - How to Answer a Summons & Complaint

Posted by attorney Dorothy Bunce

When you have been sued, it is a natural tendancy to want to defend yourself by explaining that you are a good person & that the creditor has been a jerk. Or that you have plenty of good reasons for not paying the debt, and it's not your fault.

While this tactic might have worked in school, and may still work with your spouse, or your boss, it won't play that well in a Courtroom.

A lawsuit is not the place to "tell your story." While a court might be sympathetic to your problems, the court doesn't have the authority to cut you a deal based on your circumstances. They have to follow the law. Besides, most judges have a busy calendar and haven't got time to hear your lengthy explanations that simply don't matter to them!

In most areas of the country, you need to respond to a Complaint in writing by filing a document called an "Answer." The Court may use official forms, and if they do, you can often download this form off the court website. If they don't use official forms, you will want find an example of an "Answer" and follow it as closely as you can.

In an Answer, you respond to each claim made against you, sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph with one of four phrases - "Admit" (it's 100% true), "Deny" (it's 100% false), "Admit in part and Deny in part" (some of it is true, some is false), and "Deny for lack of Information (You don't know whether it is true or not).

Unless you dispute some part of the lawsuit, even by saying you don't know, you have not effectively challenged the lawsuit & the court will rule against you.

You may have "Affirmative Defenses" under the law that you need to raise in your lawsuit. After you have finished with the Answer portion, you will want to list any Affirmative Defenses you have as a separate section. Examples of Affirmative Defenses include 1. Discharged in Bankruptcy 2. Barred by the Statute of Limitations 3. Barred by the Statute of Frauds.

To discover the Affirmative Defenses in your state, you may wish to review the Rules of Civil Procedure" in your State. These rules are often posted on the Court website or on the website of the state where the Court is located.

Of course, you must sign the answer & in most places, a notary will need to certify that you were the person that signed the answer and that you signed the answer under penalty of perjury. Don't forget to put your address, telephone number and email on the paperwork so you will promptly receive the many notices that are sent out in every legal case.

Then file the Answer with the Court & wait for a Court date to be scheduled.

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