How to Respond to a Lawsuit without a Lawyer
The most important thing to remember: deadlines matter and must be followed. Keeping this in mind will help ensure the best outcome for your case.
You've Been Sued – What to look for on the Paperwork
You've received a collection lawsuit and the first page (titled the “summons”) has stated you must file a written answer within 20 days (more details, below, on small claims cases). What is a “answer,” what should it say, and how do you file it? These are all common questions consumers have after they've been sued.
What do I need to file – and what is an “Answer”?
Answering a lawsuit is like responding in writing to a complaint; it's something that answers (point by point) the specific statements and money sought from the person that sued you. Specifically, an “answer” is a detailed written response to the lawsuit. These details are explained in Wisconsin statute (Wis. Stat. § 802.02) which requires the following responses to each claim and fact asserted in the complaint:
“A party shall state in short and plain terms the defenses to each claim asserted and shall admit or deny the averments upon which the adverse party relies. If the party is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of an averment, the party shall so state and this has the effect of a denial. Denials shall fairly meet the substance of the averments denied. The pleader shall make the denials as specific denials of designated averments or paragraphs, but if a pleader intends in good faith to deny only a part or a qualification of an averment, the pleader shall specify so much of it as is true and material and shall deny only the remainder.”
What Does an Answer Look Like?
An answer needs to have specific information on it (for a full list of the details, read here):
- The correct “case caption,” identify the correct county, court, parties, and case number.
- A truthful and accurate responses to each claim and/or fact asserted by the plaintiff. Practice Tip: the complaint usually has numbered paragraphs laying out what the person/company is seeking. Make sure you reference and address each numbered paragraph so you don't miss anything.
- Explaining each affirmative defenses applicable to the case. Read more about What is An Affirmative Defense.
If you fail to fully and properly respond to the lawsuit you can be on the immediate losing end of the case. The court could enter something called a “default judgment” (an automatic win for the person/company that filed the lawsuit). The contents and language used in an answer matters – one wrong or incorrect response can cause you to lose the entire case before you even get started.
What Happens Next
After you file an answer, the court will schedule additional hearings. You can read more about the Defending Yourself in Court.
Who/Where do I Send the Answer to?
The first page of the documents you received (called the “summons”) will list the address for the Clerk of Courts for your case. It will also list the contact information for the plaintiff and/or the plaintiff's attorney. You'll need to send the answer to the Court and the plaintiff/plaintiff's lawyer. Pro Practice Tip: Make copies of everything you mail – so you have a record of what you sent. Go to the post office and get a receipt when you mail it.
Electronic Filing and Registration
There are also faster and easier ways to file documents in your case. When you were served the lawsuit, you should have received a page of information about “electronic” filing and registration. This option is worth considering: you can save on postage and mailing. It also allows you to have an electronic record of when you filed documents; and you will instantly receive copies of documents filed in your case. The “electronic filing” system is somewhat like an online filing and document exchange website – it allows the parties and court to have an official way to file, view, and provide the documents to each other (sometimes called the court “docket”).
If you register for electronic filing in your case, you can file your “answer” and “affirmative defenses” electronically, and won't need to mail them to the court and other party/attorney.
Help – I'm still Confused and a Bit Overwhelmed
If you're concerned that you might be in over your head, don't hesitate to call for a free consultation. During your free consultation we'll go over the following:
- What creditor/debt collector has sued you.
- Details (if you know them) from the facts in the lawsuit.
- What affirmative defenses you may have.
- What lawsuits you could bring against the wrongdoer (and what to expect from the case).
Will this Cost Me Anything?
Our initial consultations are always free. During the free initial consultation we'll be able to make the determination of the type of case you have, along with potential routes for a defense. We offer online scheduling for appointments.
We provide representation in debt defense and collection cases in Wisconsin, including Racine, Kenosha, Green Bay, Appleton, the Fox Valley, Milwaukee, West Allis, Waukesha, Walworth County, Dane County, Madison, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Superior, Ashland, and anywhere in-between.