What’s an “answer” to a complaint?

November 29th, 2010  |  Published in basics

When a person gets sued, as part of the paperwork they originally get is a notice that says something along the lines of “You must answer this complaint in ____ days. If you fail to answer or otherwise appear, a judgment may be entered against you.” The number of days you have to answer the complaint will depend on what type of court you’re being sued in (state or federal) and what type of case it is. For example, in Oregon, for most civil cases in state court, you have 30 days to file the answer.

I’ve already talked a little about what a default judgment is in an October 2009 post.

Before I explain a little more what an answer looks like and what it does, I want to be clear that I don’t recommend that you file an answer yourself. My explanation below is doesn’t address all the subtleties and traps involved in creating an answer. Also, you only file the answer if you’re litigating the case and it’s a very difficult thing to do successfully without an attorney.

That being said, I think it’s important to understand the concept of what an answer is: basically, it’s your response (or answer) to what’s in the complaint. A complaint consists of paragraphs, each of which should contain some information about what the case is about — for example, it should identify the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) and the defendant (the person being sued). It should state the facts that support the plaintiff’s right to bring the lawsuit, identify what type of law or legal theory the plaintiff is using and also what kind of result the plaintiff wants (also known as the “relief”). Usually these paragraphs are numbered.

The answer responds the facts in each paragraph. There are three basic responses: admit that the facts are true; deny that the facts are true; or say that you don’t know if the facts are true or not. Usually, if you deny the facts you have to say why — i.e., it happened a different way, or this didn’t  happen at all. The answer should also raise all your defenses and also any counterclaims. Defenses are reasons why the plaintiff’s case won’t succeed. Counterclaims are new claims that you are bringing against the plaintiff in response to their lawsuit.

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