How do you draft an answer to a complaint? Here’s what you should know.

by Trey Ross, M.Ed., Esq.

Question: I’m being sued and everything the Plaintiff said in his complaint is wrong; he’s stated some really defamatory stuff. The summons says that I have to file an answer within a certain number of days. Since I’ve got a couple of degrees and I write well, I think I can draft and file an answer to the complaint on my own. Can I do that? If so, how does a person go about drafting an answer to a complaint in Georgia?

Brief Answer: First, before you draft anything, consider whether the Plaintiff’s claims are covered by any of your insurance policies (e.g., auto insurance, premises liability insurance, or workers’ compensation insurance), and if so, contact your insurance company immediately and determine if they’ll defend you in the claim. If your insurance policy covers the claim, your insurance company will provide you with an attorney and you won’t need to draft anything.

That said, yes, you certainly can draft and file an answer to a complaint in Georgia without being represented by an attorney. However, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

     If you’re being sued, it’s generally going to be a good idea to have an attorney represent you from the outset of the lawsuit. The reason: There are deadlines, pleading standards, defenses, and rules of civil procedure which must be followed. Failure to follow certain rules could be fatal to your rights to defend the case.

I. What is an “answer” to a complaint?

     An answer to a complaint is simply a written response (i.e., a “responsive pleading”[1]) to the allegations made in the complaint. The written answer should notify the Plaintiff of each defense known to the Defendant. The answer may also be the one and only opportunity the Defendant will have to notify the Plaintiff of some very important defenses known as “affirmative defenses.” [2] Affirmative Defenses are so important that if a Defendant doesn’t mention them in his initial answer—and/or with a motion providing a notice of defenses filed along with his answer—the Defendant might waive his right to assert the defenses later.[3]

II. How do you draft an answer to a complaint?

    Generally, answers to complaints begin by laying out each defense a Defendant has available to him. For example, suppose a Defendant is being sued for an alleged bad act which has a 12-month statute of limitation. If the Plaintiff’s lawsuit was filed 10 years after the 12-month statute of limitations passed, the Defendant might consider making his first defense something like the following: “Defense No. 1: Plaintiff’s claim is barred by the statute of limitations.”

      The other defenses the Defendant lists will likewise need to be based on the claims made by the Plaintiff.  

     After listing each defense, many Defendants then begin responding to each allegation with an admission, a denial, or an assertion that the Defendant doesn’t have sufficient knowledge to admit or deny the claim at this time. To illustrate, the complaint will likely contain a series of enumerated paragraphs containing alleged facts which supports Plaintiff’s case. So, the Defendant will need to draft a response to each allegation made in every paragraph or sentence of the complaint.[4] In Georgia, your responses to each allegation in every paragraph will need to be stated in “short and plain terms” and you’ll need to “admit or deny” each allegation made in the complaint.[5]

     Also, in Georgia, if a Defendant fails to deny any allegation made in the complaint, the allegation made in the complaint will be deemed admitted. For example, if the Defendant’s answer does not say “Defendant denies the allegations made in Paragraph 23,” then the Defendant will be admitting that the allegations in Paragraph 23 are true.[6] When that happens, the Plaintiff will have a green light to use the allegations in Paragraph 23 against the Defendant later on and assert that Paragraph 23 has risen to the level of an undisputed fact.

III. Other things to consider

    Another reason why a Defendant should hire an attorney is because the Plaintiff’s complaint may fail to meet the proper pleading standard. Just because the complaint was written by an attorney doesn’t mean it was done correctly. Thus, if the complaint is poorly written and very confusing, the Defendant may be entitled to a “More Definite Statement” from the Plaintiff.

    In addition, if one of the above-mentioned affirmative defenses is raised, the Defendant may have a right to file a Motion to Dismiss the lawsuit immediately and stay (i.e., halt) all action in the case until the court makes a ruling.

    Also, in some instances, a Defendant will need to file a counterclaim along with his answer, add a party to the lawsuit, and/or file a crossclaim against a party which caused the harm to the Plaintiff.

    There are also many other considerations which may need to be weighed such as (1) whether you’re being sued in the right court, (2) whether you’re being sued in the right state, and (3) whether the lawsuit is in the proper venue. Again, you’d be wise to hire an attorney whenever you’re a Defendant in a lawsuit…and you should not rely on any blog post as legal advise on matters this complicated.

     If you’d like a legal consultation with an attorney who defends Georgia citizens and businesses in civil lawsuits, please contact Attorney Trey Ross anytime between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. on Monday through Friday.

In the meantime, check out these sample answers from real Georgia cases whereby The Law Office of Trey Ross, P.C. served as counsel for the Defendant.


[1] See e.g., O.C.G.A. § 9-11-12(a) (providing that “[a] defendant shall serve his answer within 30 days after the service of the summons and complaint upon him, unless otherwise provided by statute”); Barnes v. District of Columbia, 42 F. Supp. 3d 111 (DDC 2014) (providing that “[a] complaint is a pleading to which a responsive pleading is required”).

[2] See e.g., O.C.G.A. § 9-11-8(c) (providing that affirmative defenses are “accord and satisfaction, arbitration and award, discharge in bankruptcy, duress, estoppel, failure of consideration, fraud, illegality, injury by fellow servant, laches, license, payment, release, res judicata, statute of frauds, statute of limitations, and waiver).

[3] See e.g., O.C.G.A. 9-11-12(h) (providing instances when certain affirmative defenses may be waived).

[4] O.C.G.A. § 9-11-8(b).

[5] Id.

[6] O.C.G.A. § 9-11-8(d) (providing that “[a]verments in a pleading to which a responsive pleading is required, other than those as to the amount of damage, are admitted when not denied in the responsive pleading”).

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