Filing Your Answer to a Complaint
Authored By: Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Inc.
Why file an answer?
If you are served with a summons and complaint (or petition), this means someone has filed a lawsuit against you. A summons notifies you that you have been sued and informs you that you must respond to the lawsuit. A complaint sets forth the reason and basis for the suit. If you do not want to lose your right to defend yourself and participate in the court proceedings, you must file an answer within the time frame stated in the summons.
When Must You Respond?
You have a limited time to respond. The summons will tell you exactly how many days.
A summons for eviction gives you only five (5) working days to file your answer with the court. Count five days starting with the day after you are served the summons. Do not count Saturdays, Sundays, or legal holidays.
All other summonses will give you twenty (20) days to file your answer. Count twenty days starting with the day after you are served, and count every day, including Saturdays and Sundays.
What if I Do Not Respond or Do Not Meet the Deadline?
If you do not respond or meet the deadline, the person filing the lawsuit will win a judgment against you. This is called a default. If you did not file a response on time, contact a lawyer to see if you can still contest the lawsuit. There are some limited circumstances where a default can be challenged. One of them is if you were not properly notified of the lawsuit and did not have a chance to respond. Contact your local legal aid or legal services office immediately if you receive this kind of a default judgment or if you do not understand the response time frames.
What Do I Say in My Answer?
Read the complaint or petition to see why you are being sued and what the person wants the court to do. Then write a response to each numbered paragraph of the complaint or petition. Every allegation in a complaint is usually given a number. You should number your answer the same way. All you have to write is whether you agree with or disagree with the statement in the paragraph. If you disagree, you DO NOT have to explain why you disagree.
You can find a copy of a form to help you complete your Answer here. You do not have to type your Answer, you can write it out by hand or type it. At the top of your Answer form you should copy the information from the top of the Summons:
- Plaintiff’s name [this is the person suing you]
- Defendant’s name [your name]
- Name of the Court
- Case Number
Copy this information carefully; it is like the “address” of the lawsuit and all the papers filed in the case are directed to a certain file based upon this “address.” If the information is not correct the court may not know that you filed an response. If you are not sure that you have filled out this information correctly check with a person working the Clerk of Court’s office when you file your Answer to make sure.
Title your paper “Answer.”
In your Answer you must write a response to each numbered paragraph of the Complaint telling the judge what you agree with, disagree with, or do not know about. There are typically three responses you can give in your Answer, for example:
- Paragraph 1 of the Complaint is Admitted [write this if you know that the information in paragraph 1 is true]
- Paragraph 2 of the Complaint is Denied [write this if you know that the information in paragraph 2 is NOT true]
- Defendant is without knowledge as to Paragraph 3 of the Complaint [write this is you do not actually personally know if the information in paragraph 3 is true or not]
After each response admitting, denying, or stating that you are without knowledge you can add comments about each paragraph with information that you wish the Judge to know about your side of the story. You do not have to add anything else, though. You can also attach copies of documents you want the court to consider as “proof” to your Answer (e.g. receipts).
At the end of your Answer there is a section called the “certificate of service,” where you state how you are sending the plaintiff a copy. Write in the name and address of the person who filed the Complaint against you, or the name and address of their attorney. You can find this on the Summons that you received. At the end, add your address and phone number and sign the answer.
What Do I Do Next?
Make at least two more copies of your answer. The original answer is filed with the Clerk of the Court where the lawsuit was filed. Look at the top of the summons to see in which court the lawsuit was filed. Once your original is filed, the court will keep you advised of all hearings so that you can continue with your defense.
You must also mail one copy of the answer to the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney. Look at the name and address on the summons to see where to send the plaintiff’s copy. Keep one copy for your records. Contact your local legal aid or legal services office if you have any questions or if you need assistance in preparing your answer.
You will receive notice about when your case is scheduled for a hearing. You must go to every hearing in your case. Plan on being early for your hearing and prepared to tell the judge what you think about the issue. Dress very conservatively and call the judge “sir,” “ma’am,” or “your honor.”
But I want to negotiate a settlement, not go to court.
You should always file your answer first, then try to reach an agreement with the other side. If you cannot work things out you do not want to lose the right to defend against the lawsuit.
Updated: April 19, 2017