Each fact alleged in the complaint should be contained in a numbered paragraph. If you dispute the fact or you do not know whether the fact is true, you make a note in the margin of the complaint.
Outline your response to the complaint
Your answer outline should have numbered paragraphs that correspond to each number in the complaint. In your outline and in each corresponding paragraph, either admit the fact if it is true, deny it if is false, or deny it on "information and belief" if you do not know if the fact is true. Deny each claim.
Assess your affirmative defenses
Affirmative defenses in plain English are simply reasons under the law why the facts and claims alleged in the complaint do not support a claim against you. I have provided a link to an article containing common defenses below. Retaining a lawyer is recommended so that you understand and properly assert applicable affirmative defenses.
Assess your potential counterclaims
You may have valid legal claims against the person or entity that is suing you. These are known as counterclaims. While Internet research can be useful to identify and properly draft a counterclaim, again, it is a good idea to retain a lawyer to make sure that it is done right.
Assess claims arising out of the same circumstances of the complaint against different parties
Many times a third-party who is not included as a party to the complaint may be liable in whole or in part for the claims asserted against you. You will need to assess who these third-parties might be, and retain a lawyer to help you to properly assert claims against these third-parties so that you are not left on the hook.
Put it all together into a formal document
Small claims is less formal at least in Wisconsin, but most states have specific laws mandating that an answer, affirmative defense, counterclaim and third-party claim be organized and filed in a specific manner. These laws are referred to as pleadings under civil procedure statutes. I have included a link to Wisconsin laws on civil procedure below. Before you finalize the answer and related documents, make sure that they are in compliance.
Make sure to obtain a "wherefore" clause or prayer for relief which ask the court to grant you your damages against either the plaintiff or a third-party which you bring in, dismiss the claims against you, and asks for "any other relief deemed just and equitable by the court."
Additional resources provided by the author
Please review the links below for other legal resources. Retain an attorney to make sure your Answer is completed correctly!
Tip: conduct an Internet search on this subject for other useful web articles and sample pleadings.
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