How To Respond To A Lawsuit In California
In this article, we will go over the basics of how to file a response to a civil lawsuit in California Superior Court without an attorney.
Whether you are being sued by an unscrupulous debt collector, or a business associate has alleged a breach of contract claim, sometimes we are forced to get involved in the civil court system and respond to a lawsuit, regardless of whether or not we can afford it. In these situations, having a competent attorney by your side is always a good idea. But what happens when you can't afford to spend $10,000-$20,000 on an attorney?
With access to free legal services being woefully inadequate, many people have no choice but to represent themselves in civil court. Fortunately, this is not nearly as difficult as you may think. Once you understand the basic process and learn a few legal terms, you will see that the legal system is primarily based on simple common sense.
If you do decide to respond to your lawsuit, we highly recommend you purchase our California Civil Lawsuit Guide, which includes more detailed instructions, form templates, and samples. It will allow you to file a professional response on par with anything drafted by an attorney.
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1. Being Served with a Summons and Complaint
A complaint is the initiating document that lays out a plaintiff's claims. It informs the defendant and the court how the plaintiff has been wronged by the defendant and how the plaintiff should be compensated. When a lawsuit has been filed against you, you will be formally served with a copy of the complaint as well as a 'summons', which makes you legally obligated to respond to the allegations in the complaint.
Some examples of common lawsuits in California are:
- Breach of Contract
- Unpaid Wages
- Wrongful Termination
- Race/Sex Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination
- Defamation (slander/libel)
If you have been served with a summons and complaint in California, you will need to file a response (known as an 'Answer') in the same court where the complaint was filed.
2. Filing an Answer to the Summons and Complaint
Once served, you will need to file an answer within the time indicated in the summons (usually around 30 days). IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU DO NOT IGNORE THE SUMMONS! If you do, a default judgment will likely be entered against you and you will be forced to pay the plaintiff all of the damages they alleged in their complaint, regardless of whether or not they are accurate. In your answer, you will either admit or deny the specific allegations made against you in the complaint. You should also lay out any valid affirmative defenses and counterclaims you may have against the plaintiff.
3. Engaging in the Discovery Process
Once your answer has been filed, both sides will engage in ’Discovery’, where they are required to disclose information to each other. These disclosures are made by each party sending the other a 'Request for Production of Documents’ wherein they ask for specific documents that are relevant to the case. Our California Lawsuit Answer Package contains forms, samples, and instructions on how to send and respond to requests for production. Discovery often includes depositions of witnesses as well.
4. Presenting your Evidence in Court
After discovery is complete, a hearing or trial will be set and both sides will present their case to a judge, jury, or private arbitrator. This includes submitting exhibits and interviewing witnesses.
Once both sides are finished presenting their claims and defenses, the judge or jury will find in favor of one party or the other.
This is a general overview of how to file a response to a lawsuit in California. Of course, the specifics of any case can be a bit more complex, but if you understand these basic concepts, you will be able to represent yourself competently in most civil lawsuits.
The California Lawsuit Answer Form package will show you how to file an answer to a summons and complaint, send and respond to requests for production, introduce exhibits, offer objections, and interview witnesses at a hearing or trial. All without an attorney. Start your lawsuit answer today!