How To Respond To A Lawsuit Without A Lawyer


How to respond to a lawsuit

How To Respond To A Lawsuit Without A Lawyer

Everyone wants to avoid a lawsuit.  Unfortunately, that isn't always possible.  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 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.  Anyone can learn how to respond to a lawsuit without a lawyer!

4 Steps To Answering A Lawsuit

Five steps to filing a lawsuit


The 4 basic steps to responding to any civil lawsuit in the United States include the following:

1.  Being Served With A Summons And Complaint

A complaint is the initiating document that lays out a plaintiff's claims (called a 'petition' in Texas).  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.

2.  Filing An Answer

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.  Discovery

After a complaint and answer have been filed, both parties engage in discovery, wherein they are legally obligated to provide all relevant evidence to the other party.  This process begins by sending and responding to Requests For Production of Documents.  After that, depositions of potential witnesses (including both parties) may be conducted.

4.  Trial

After discovery is completed, the case will go to trial, where each party can plead their case to a judge or jury. They will examine witnesses and introduce evidence that supports each element of their claims or defenses.


Drafting the Answer

Filing a civil complaint

If your answer is not formatted correctly, it may be rejected by the court clerk!  Most civil answers in U.S. courts have the following format:

  1. A case caption that includes the name of the court, the names of the parties, and the title of the pleading.
  2. An introductory sentence, wherein you state who you are and that you are hereby answering the plaintiff’s complaint.
  3. Admissions and denials, wherein you admit or deny each allegation in the complaint.
  4. A list of any affirmative defenses you plan on asserting.
  5. Any counterclaims you are bringing against the plaintiff.
  6. A ‘Prayer for Relief’ wherein you ask the court what, exactly, you want them to do about this case.

Sending and Responding to Requests For Production

Lawsuit Discovery

After the complaint and answer have been filed, both sides will engage in ’Discovery’, where they are required to disclose information to each other.  These disclosures are usually 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. 





Civil lawsuit trial

After the discovery period is over, a case will go to trial or arbitration, where each side will plead their case in front of a judge or jury.  The plaintiff will present their case first, introducing physical evidence (such as documents) and witness testimony.  As the defendant, you will be able to object to any evidence you believe does not comply with state law and you will also be able to cross-examine the plaintiff's witnesses.

After the plaintiff rests their case, you will then put on your own case in the same manner.  Then, the judge or jury will decide who prevails on each claim for relief.



As you can see, that basics of filing an answer to a lawsuit are not complicated.  Of course, it is impossible to cover all the details of a lawsuit answer in one article, but most responses in the United States will have the same basic format as described above.  If you can understand these concepts, you will be able to competently defend yourself in a civil lawsuit.

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