How to Answer to the Complaint in a Civil Court

By Bernadette A. Safrath

If you are being sued in civil court, you have received a summons and complaint, containing the allegations or claims against you. You must respond to the summons and complaint by drafting an answer, responding to the allegations and claims against you. The proper way to draft an answer is set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 8.

How to Prepare an Answer

Review the summons and complaint fully and make sure you are aware of all the allegations or claims against you, the defendant.

When drafting your answer, you must respond to every allegation or claim against you. There are three appropriate responses: (1) Admit (2) Deny (3) Deny knowledge or information

If you are denying knowledge or information, it is an effective denial, but is a more specific statement because it means you are claiming that you do not know enough about the allegation to believe that it is true.

Make sure that you respond to every claim and allegation individually. This ensures that you will not inadvertently fail to answer a claim or allegation. This is important because if you fail to respond to any claim or allegation with a denial, the court will consider it an admittance.

In addition to responding to the claims and allegations, the answer is your opportunity to include your defenses to the claims and allegations. A defense is a reason why the plaintiff's claim is false.

There are also affirmative defenses. If a defendant includes an affirmative defense, he has the burden of proving it. If an affirmative defense is successful, the plaintiff's claim is true, but he still cannot prevail. Some examples of affirmative defenses: (1) Contributory negligence (meaning the plaintiff is at least partially to blame) (2) Illegality (often used in breach-of-contract cases, meaning the contract the plaintiff wants enforced is illegal) (3) Statute of Frauds (often used in breach-of-contract cases where the contract to be enforced was not in writing, as required by the Statute of Frauds) (4) Statue of Limitations (meaning the plaintiff had to file his lawsuit within a certain period of time but failed to do so.

The last thing you should include in your answer, if you have either, is a counterclaim or a cross-claim. A counterclaim is your opportunity to file a lawsuit against the plaintiff suing you. A cross-claim is your opportunity to sue a third party involved in the incident you are being sued for. For example, if a plaintiff is suing you because of a car accident and that accident involved a third party's vehicle, including the cross-claim in your answer informs the plaintiff that you are claiming the third party is responsible, and informs the third party that he or she is being sued.

You have 20 days to prepare and serve your answer after you have been served with a summons and complaint. Once you complete your answer, send it to the plaintiff, or his attorney, and, if applicable, the third party involved in a cross-claim.

About the Author

Bernadette A. Safrath is an attorney who has been writing professionally since 2008. Safrath was published in Touro Law Center's law review and now writes legal articles for various websites. Safrath has a Bachelor of Arts in music from Long Island University at C.W. Post, as well as a Juris Doctor from Touro College.

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