In the legal process, an “answer” refers to a written response filed by a defendant to a plaintiff’s complaint or petition. The answer, also called a “response” in some situations, typically denies the accusations made, or facts stated, by the plaintiff. The defendant may also include facts in an attempt to justify his actions, or to make a counterclaim against the plaintiff. The defendant’s answer must be filed with the court within a specified time limit, usually 30 days, or risk having a default judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff. Filing an answer is the defendant’s first step in a civil lawsuit. To explore this concept, consider the following answer definition.

Definition of Answer


  1. A legal pleading in which a party to a lawsuit responds to the opponent’s statement of position.
  2. A defendant’s replay to charges made by a plaintiff, or the plaintiff’s complaint.


1st Century AD                        Old English andswerian

The Complaint

When an individual or entity seeks to initiate a civil lawsuit, the first step is to file a complaint, also called a “petition” in some situations, with the court. The complaint outlines the plaintiff’s allegations against the defendant, and states the damages or relief that they are asking the court to grant them. The exact information stated in a complaint varies in each situation, but every jurisdiction has certain specific information that must be stated, including identifying information about all parties to the lawsuit, the court of jurisdiction, the filing date, and the reason for the lawsuit.

Summons and Answer

At the time the complaint is filed with the court, a summons is issued to be personally served on the defendant with the complaint. The summons formally advises the defendant of the lawsuit against him, and advises him how long he has to file an answer with the court. In the event a hearing has already been scheduled, the date and time will be provided on either the summons or complaint. In the event the defendant fails to file an answer within the specified time limit, and a default judgment is entered, the court may award whatever damages the plaintiff has requested.

Preparing an Answer to the Complaint

Preparing an answer to the complaint gives the defendant an opportunity to provide his version of events and facts of the dispute. The defendant can state which, if any, facts he agrees with, and add any that he feels have been left out. The defendant may include a counterclaim or cross-complaint if desired, though some additional documents may be needed for this, depending on the local rules of court.

Filing a Counterclaim or Cross-Complaint

In many civil disputes, both parties feel they have been wronged, and that the other owes them some type of remuneration. When one party files a lawsuit in civil court, the other party may file a counterclaim or cross-complaint, stating how he feels the original petitioner wronged him. This keeps the matter in one court, before a single judge. A counterclaim is a direct claim filed against the original plaintiff or petitioner. A cross-complaint is used in situations in which there are more than two parties involved.

For example, a homeowner sues both the contractor and subcontractor responsible for remodeling his bathroom. The subcontractor feels that the fault lies solely with the contractor, who provided faulty materials. The subcontractor could file a cross-complaint against the contractor.

Asbury Transportation Company v Brewer

The case of Asbury Transportation Co. v Brewer involved a 1963 accident in which a Mack truck owned by John Brewer hit a road grader owned by Asbury Transportation Company. Asbury sued Brewer for damages caused by the accident, but Brewer claimed that an aluminum disc wheel on the truck had collapsed. He claimed that, because Reliable Automotive had sold him the truck with an oral warranty that the truck was free of defects, that company should be held liable.

Brewer filed a cross-complaint against Reliable Automotive, as well as the manufacturer of the truck’s brakes, claiming that company was negligent in fabrication and sale of the wheels. The court found that neither cross complaint was valid, and ruled that Brewer was at fault for the accident.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Damages – A monetary award in compensation for a financial loss, loss of or damage to personal or real property, or an injury.
  • Default Judgment – A judgment entered against a party who has failed to respond to a lawsuit or other legal action against him.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
  • Summons – An order or citation to appear in court, or to appear before a judge or magistrate.