When a plaintiff sues you, he must file a pleading, also called a complaint, with the local court to initiate the process. You won't know you're a defendant in a lawsuit until the clerk of courts sends you the complaint by certified mail. You have a specific amount of time, depending on the court handling the case, to file a written answer or forfeit the right to defend yourself in the lawsuit. Thus, if you don't file an answer with the clerk of courts, you automatically lose the case when a judge declares a default judgment.
Review the pleading. The pleading contains the grounds of the lawsuit, such as breach of contract or a property dispute. You need this information to respond to the complaint.
Decide on your defense. Your answer must include one defense to counter the plaintiff's claim. You have two options: admit or deny the plaintiff's claims.
Place legal citation at the top of the answer document. The legal citation includes the name and location of the court, and the docket information. Title the pleading "Answer." You can find all the legal citation information you need to start your answer at the top of the complaint page. If you're not sure how to write the legal citation, mimic the top of the complaint for guidance.
Write the answer. Use short, plain terms to respond to each of the plaintiff's claims. Include whether you admit or deny the claim asserted. For instance, you may write: "I deny the claims that I owe money to the plaintiff."
Send a Certificate of Service, along with the answer, to the plaintiff, and file copies with the clerk of courts as well. The certificate, a one-page document, typically includes a sentence such as, "The foregoing answer was sent to (plaintiff's name) on this day (include the date) by ordinary mail." The certificate affirms that you indeed sent your written answer to the plaintiff.
- Avoid a summary judgment where a judge rules in the plaintiff's favor after reading the complaint and answer. Make sure that the defense you choose is a strong one. For instance, don't write that you don't owe the plaintiff because you don't like his business ethics. Instead, write that you don't owe the money because the plaintiff breached the contract.
- If you decide to countersue the plaintiff, you are starting a lawsuit against him, not answering the complaint. Thus, a countersuit isn't a defense. To countersue, you must file your own complaint separate from filing a written answer.
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