Fill out Answer form to respond
Once you decide to respond to a Complaint, your first step is to decide what type of response. This page will focus on the Answer form. Filing an Answer to the Complaint forces the other side to prove their case with evidence. You may also be called upon to provide evidence about what happened or defenses you claim.
There are other possible types of responses that may be more appropriate in your case. Read about motions and cross-complaint to see what other types of responses you might want to file.
Before you start
Be prepared for the time and effort of a lawsuit
A lawsuit can last at least a year, if not longer. During that time you and the other side often send court papers back and forth, asking the other side to turn over evidence or the judge to make a decision about something. If you file an Answer, but then ignore your next steps, you may lose your case and even owe money to the other side if they hired a lawyer.
Check out a guide from the Sacramento County Law Library for responding to a lawsuit. Much of the information applies to every county in California. Or contact your local law library for help in your county.
Expect to get legal documents in the mail. Once you file your Answer, watch for documents in the mail from the court and the other side (plaintiff). If you ignore these or miss a deadline, you can lose your case. If you move, let the court and plaintiff know your new address.
There is a deadline to file your Answer form
You must fill out an Answer, serve the plaintiff, and file your Answer form with the court. Generally, this is due within 30 days after you were served.
If you don’t, the plaintiff can ask for a default. If there's a default, the court won't let you file an Answer and can decide the case without you.
Fill out the form
Find the right form. Which form you use for an Answer depends on the type of case you have. You can find links to forms you can use in the pages for personal injury, property damage, or breach of contract cases.
You may also be able to use a form called a General Denial (form PLD-050). Read the instructions on that form very carefully to make sure you can use it in your case.
Once you have the right Answer form, you'll write in it what might be not true in the Complaint and what defenses that you might raise.
Fill out more forms, if you can't afford the filing fee. You’ll need to pay a fee ($225-$450) to the clerk when you file your forms. If you can’t afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.
Figure out what defenses you can use in your case
In addition to disputing all or parts of a plaintiff’s complaint, it is common to include on or more defenses in your Answer. A defense is a legal reason why the other side should lose.
For example, a defense could be that the other side waited too long to sue you. Or, that they didn't give you credit for all the payments you made - they are suing you for more than you actually owe.
The defenses you list in your Answer are only what you might use to defend yourself. The actual defenses you use will depend on the evidence you discover while preparing for your trial.
Check the list of some defenses used in debt cases and see if any apply to your situation.
Find out if there are any local forms to complete
Some courts have additional local forms they require you to use.
Contact your court clerk’s office or check your court’s website to ask if they have any local forms you need to use.
Make copies of your forms
After you’ve filled out the forms and signed the Answer, make 3 copies of the form.
Once you’ve completed the forms and made copies, you’ll have the Answer delivered to the plaintiff (or their attorney). This is called serving court papers. Once it's served, you'll file the original and copies with the court.