What should you do if you don’t know how to respond to a lawsuit without an attorney? Unfortunately, lawsuits are not only time-consuming and emotionally draining. But they can also cost you a lot, especially if you are considering hiring a reputable attorney to defend you in a court of law. As per an average estimate, a lawyer’s hourly rate is around $324 per hour, depending on the state you live in.
Most of the cases involving lawsuits require the professional assistance of an attorney. Since they are experienced and have the knowledge to deal with matters related to legal problems, it is best to approach them. However, if it is too costly for you, you can proceed on your own, but you must be well aware of all your legal rights. If you lack essential information related to law, you are susceptible to exploitation by default. The good thing is that the basics of responding to a lawsuit are not very complicated. Once you have initially managed to get through the legal intricacies, you will find out that most civil law is just common sense. The following information about how to respond to a lawsuit without an attorney is going to help you:
Filing a Complaint
Filing a complaint is the first step required in dealing with any lawsuit. It is a complaint filed by the plaintiff, or the person filing the lawsuit alleges the way the defendant has harmed them. The latter is someone responsible for responding to the lawsuit. At this moment, the plaintiff is not required to prove anything. All they need to do is make the allegation. If the allege they have made turns out to be just, they are entitled to a claim as per the judgment.
Besides, merely making an allegation is not enough. The plaintiff must also disclose the type of harm caused by the defending party. For instance, if you are alleging someone of hurting you in a car accident, you must reveal the specific physical injuries. Different states recognize harm as a claim for relief. One of the best ways to discover how you can make a claim is to ask a librarian at a law library. They may not give you a piece of legal advice, but they could tell you where you can look for individual elements of a potential claim. Once you have the required information available at your disposal, you can inform the court with all the facts to claim financial damages and emotional distress caused by the event. However, rules in this relation vary from state to state.
After a complaint has been written, you need to file it at your local court to be officially served to the defendant with a summons. Remember, without an appropriate summon as a separate document, your complaint will not have any legal authority even if you have already filed it at the courthouse. Ensure that your complaint and summons are personally delivered by someone who is an adult and a resident of the state where the complaint has been filed. You can also do this by hiring a private server. Your local sheriff can also serve the documents. Once the papers have been served, the defendant will have up to 30 days to file a response. It has to be an official response against the allegations leveled in the complaint.
File an Answer
In case you are the one who has is served with a complaint and a summons, you have to file a response. If you ignore, the court then has the authority to enter a default judgment against you, in which case, you will be legally responsible for paying for the damages claimed. In other words, the plaintiff is now in a position to seize your bank accounts and even claim your home as a way to justify the damage. However, it is fortunate that filing a response is not complicated. All you need to do is to refute all the allegations made against you by the plaintiff in their complaint.
Denials and Admissions
Once you are preparing an answer, your response’s main body should specifically address every paragraph of the complaint. It should also clearly state if the defendant has admitted or denied the allegations in a particular section. In most cases, a response is somewhat like this: ‘Defendant Denies the Allegations in paragraph 3 of the Complaint.’ If there is any minor fault on your part, you should admit it. Make sure that it can be easily proven. However, if you have any doubts, the best way is to deny the allegation. Always remember that relying on your memory when answering a complaint is never a smart choice.
Affirmative defenses do not depend on what the plaintiff has alleged in their complaint. Once you have denied or admitted to the complaint, it is still not possible that all the allegations leveled against the defendant are entitled to relief. One of the most common examples of an affirmative defense is the statute of limitations, which means that the plaintiff has to file a complaint within a specific time period. If the complaint filed has exceeded the window (up to 6 years in some cases related to breach of a contract), there is a lot of room for alleging an affirmative defense.
In case a defendant’s counterclaims are valid, the right time to allege them is after affirmative defenses. An example of a counterclaim is those breach of contract cases where the defendant asserts that the plaintiff has breached the contract. In other words, the defendant would make a breach of contract in a way a plaintiff would make the allegations when filing a complaint. In such an instance, a plaintiff will have to respond to the counterclaim as a defendant would.
Filing and Serving the Response
Once a response has been drafted, it should be filed at the county courthouse along with the applicable filing charges. The next step involves serving a copy of the response directly to the plaintiff or their attorney via mail at the address mentioned in the summons.
There are some other essential aspects that you should take into account when responding to a lawsuit without an attorney. They entail:
Evaluate the Complaint
Go through the complaint carefully and determine how much time you have to file a response to the summons. If you don’t file an answer in the court as per the deadline, it is assumed that you have accepted the charges filed against you. Besides, the deadline mentioned to file an answer consists of calendar days, not business days. In case the deadline date falls on a holiday or a weekend, you must file your response on a working day immediately before that day. Remember that even if you have the whole month to respond, start promptly as any unforeseen situation can unfold.
Determine Who has sued you and Why
Just read the complaint and determine the name of the person who has sued you. The complaint comprises the name of the person or the company that has alleged you. Read every numbered paragraph and question yourself if the allegations leveled against you are right or not. Note down things that are not true, as you will need them in your answer. If you have proof as a document that one of the charges is wrong, you can attach it to your response.
Identify the Name and Location of the Court
Identify the name and location of the court listed on the summons. If the court’s site is too far, find out where it is located on the state’s courts website.
Gather all the important documents
Gather all the relevant documents and make at least three copies of each. You can attach one with the response you are filing and keep the original ones for your record.
Try to settle the matter with the person who has sued you
After having read the complaint, you realize that the plaintiff is completely right. The best approach is negotiating a settlement with the person since court proceedings could be emotionally exhausting and hurt your finances. Even if you are confident that you can somehow win the lawsuit, you can still decide to do so, especially if the plaintiff has demanded a small amount. While there is nothing wrong with calling the plaintiff or their lawyer, making an offer to settle the lawsuit must be in writing.
If you need to know more about how to respond to a lawsuit without an attorney, please contact us.