Once you are served with a lawsuit, you need to decide whether you are going to respond to the lawsuit. If you choose to respond, you then have to decide how. This is a really good time to talk to a lawyer for advice on whether to respond and, if so, how to best handle your case. Click for help finding a lawyer.
You have 30 days AFTER the date you are served to file a response with the court. The 30 days include weekend days and court holidays. If the last day falls on a day that the court is closed, you have until the next day that the court is open.
1. You can NOT respond
If you do not file a response within 30 days after you were served, the plaintiff can file a form called “Request for Default,” which means you have defaulted and can no longer respond to the lawsuit to defend yourself. If there is any part of the case you disagree with, or any amount of money you feel you do not owe, you will not be able to tell the court once you have defaulted.
After a default is entered the plaintiff can ask the court to enter a default judgment against you. The plaintiff can prove his or her case without you disputing what he or she says, and can win up to the amount that he or she asked for in the lawsuit against you.
Then the plaintiff can enforce the judgment against you. This can mean getting money from you by garnishing your paycheck, levying on your bank account, or putting a lien on your house or car. A judgment against you can also show up on your credit report. This can make it hard to get a credit card or a loan.
But, in some cases, it may make sense for you not to respond. This is a very difficult decision to make, so talk to a lawyer about what would be best for you in your particular situation.
2. You can file an answer or a general denial
These are the most common ways to respond to a lawsuit:
3. You can file a motion
In certain situations, you can respond to the lawsuit by filing a motion (a request) that usually tells the court that the plaintiff made a mistake in his or her lawsuit. Some of the more common motions are:
Give your reasons why the court should take it out of the complaint.
Talk to a lawyer! A lawyer can answer any questions you may have about what type of response would be best in your case. Each type of response has different legal implications that could even hurt your case in the future, so it is very important you understand all the consequences to what you choose to file. Click for help finding a lawyer.
Even if you cannot afford a lawyer to handle your whole case, you may be able to get a consultation for on a limited issue or for a limited time period to help you decide on your best strategy. To get more information about limited-scope representation or for help finding a limited-scope lawyer, read the section on Limited-Scope Representation.
If you decide to file a response, you must file it in the same courthouse where the lawsuit was filed. The address should be on the papers you were served by the plaintiff. Make sure you take your original plus at least 2 copies to the clerk’s office to file.
You will have to pay a filing fee to file your papers. If you cannot afford the filing fees, you can ask the court for a fee waiver. If the court approves your fee waiver request, you will not have to pay the fees. But if you win your lawsuit and collect costs from the other side, the court may ask you to pay back the waived fees.
Once you file your response to the plaintiff’s lawsuit, you must serve a copy on the plaintiff. You can also serve a copy of your response BEFORE you file the original with the court. Either way, make sure you file your response before the 30 days are up!
To serve the plaintiff with a copy of your response, have someone 18 or older (not you and not involved in the case) mail a copy to the plaintiff. If the plaintiff is represented by a lawyer, a copy of your response gets served on the lawyer. If the plaintiff is self-represented, it gets served on the plaintiff. The person who does this for you must fill out a proof of service by mail form. Then, make sure you file this proof of service form with the court and keep a copy for yourself.
If you have a claim against the plaintiff and you want the court to hear your claim, you have to file a cross-complaint against the plaintiff at the same time you file your answer. If you do not, you will waive your claim. This may also be true for claims against third parties if they are based on the same facts and circumstances as the lawsuit the plaintiff filed against you.
If you are adding new parties to the lawsuit, you will also need to complete a summons for the cross-complaint and have the new parties served with the summons and cross-complaint. You do not need a summons if the only persons you are suing are the ones who are suing you.