How do I respond to a lawsuit?
Facing a lawsuit can be a very stressful experience. First, don’t just ignore the lawsuit.
Answering the lawsuit is the first and most important step in the lawsuit. If you do not provide a timely response, the person who filed the lawsuit against you may win the lawsuit.
By entering an answer to the complaint, you begin to defend yourself, and you are telling the court that you refute the allegations against you. This forces the plaintiff to prove his or her case and gives the defendant his or her “day in court.”
It is not a requirement to retain the legal services of an attorney to defend against a lawsuit. However, depending on the type of claim and the defendant’s damages, the advice of an attorney is important.
The most common types of lawsuits are related to personal injury, family law, debt collection, negligence, denial of medical care, insurance companies claiming damages, defamation, among others.
Going to trial on a personal injury or class action lawsuit without legal assistance and without preparation is risky. The most advisable steps to respond to a lawsuit are as follows:
STEP 1 – Consult a lawsuit attorney.
An attorney who specializes in defending against the type of lawsuit you have been served is your best tool for protection. Hire an attorney who knows the procedures related to the type of lawsuit you are facing. Your attorney can help you present persuasive arguments for your defense in front of the judge or jury. An attorney can also settle the case out of court.
STEP 2 – Determine when to file an Answer
Answers to a lawsuit are given within a certain amount of time. It is important to check the date and how much time you have left to do so. The first page of the summons includes the last day to file an answer. If you are not familiar with these documents, an attorney can do the following:
- Determine whether you must respond within twenty or thirty days, which is normal. But some lawsuit cases have very short deadlines; for example, there are eviction lawsuits that have a three- or five-day deadline to respond.
- Call the court clerk for more information about the deadline. It is very important not to wait until the last minute to contact an attorney, as it takes time to prepare an appropriate response.
STEP 3 – Decide what type of response to file.
An answer is a written document in which the defendant admits, or denies the charges in the plaintiff’s petition, and states the reasons why the defendant is not liable. Any information contained in the complaint that is not denied in an answer is considered true by the court. There are many strategies for responding to a lawsuit in court. An experienced lawsuit defense attorney will find the best solution for your case, depending on the specific nature of the claim.
For example, an attorney can tell you whether you should:
- Opt for a motion to transfer the lawsuit to a new facility, or to remove improper service of process, or a peremptory exception, where you state that the charges are not sufficient for the plaintiff to sue you, or another type of response.
- Examine all affirmative defenses. This is any statement of fact or law that would be a defense against the allegations, and they must be raised in the answer, or else they are deemed to be waived, and the defendant will not be able to use them later.
Common examples of affirmative defenses include:
- Statute of limitations: period of time allowed by law to state that the claim has expired.
- Assumption of risk: When the plaintiff knowingly exposed himself or herself to danger or harm.
- Settlement and Satisfaction: When the parties resolve the dispute.
STEP 4 – Send a copy of the response to the claimant.
A copy of the answer you have filed with the court should be sent to the plaintiff and his or her attorney. Most courts require that proof of service be filed with the court.
STEP 5 – Initiate Discussions
After filing an answer to the complaint, your attorney begins a process of communication through the plaintiff’s attorney to explore settlement possibilities. In the meantime, the parties will engage in the discovery phase, this means an exchange of important information about the problem that generated the lawsuit.
During this time your attorney does the following:
- Attends scheduled hearings with the judge to try to keep the case moving.
- Negotiates to reach a settlement. Most cases are settled out of court.
- Prepare for trial. If there is no acceptable settlement, then everything is settled at trial, where the judge and jury decide on the case.
- Opting for the legal services of an attorney to respond to your claim is a very personal decision. In an initial consultation you can talk to your attorney about the type of cases he or she handles, the fees and how long it will take to resolve the problem, including what the attorney-client relationship will be like. And if you are concerned about your reputation during the lawsuit, a qualified attorney will keep your confidential information protected.
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