Just as the plaintiff has a master document, known as a complaint, so too does the defendant have its own master document for the lawsuit, which is known as the answer. The answer to the complaint can be imagined as the complaint’s mirror image, but from the defendant’s point of view.
Every numbered allegation in the complaint must be met with either an admission, a denial, or some other important disclaimer, such as that the defendant has no knowledge of the particular allegation. An admission to an allegation is exactly that: the defendant is acknowledging that the plaintiff’s statement in a paragraph is true and accurate. On the other hand, a denial is a refutation, stating that the allegation is untrue or inaccurate.
Occasionally, allegations might have multiple parts, in which the defendant agrees that some parts are true, but others are not. The defendant might argue, although he may have signed a valid and binding agreement, the agreement was never breached, and therefore he is not liable. Defendants must generally be very cautious about which allegations they deny, and how they set about denying them. If a denied allegation turns out to be true, then this could cost the defendant credibility in the eyes of the judge and jury.
In addition to meeting the allegations of the complaint, the answer is where the defendant pleads its affirmative defenses. An affirmative defense is similar to one of the plaintiff’s claims in that the defendant has the burden of proof on the defense. The statute of limitation is one affirmative defense that often comes up in civil suits.
Furthermore, a defendant will often have counterclaims against the plaintiff. A counterclaim is where the defendant has claims of its own against the plaintiff. These frequently come up in contract disputes, where both parties assert that the other party breached the contract first.
Drafting a strong answer is absolutely a critical step for any defendant in civil litigation, and the advice of counsel through this process cannot be understated. If you've been sued and need help drafting an answer to the plaintiff's complaint, then clock is already running! You should give the skilled litigation attorneys at Asheville Legal a call immediately to make sure you meet your deadline and craft an effective defense.