"I've never been in trouble with the law before, and now I am being sued?!" Yes, there's initial shock that many go through after being served with a lawsuit from a debt buyer, debt collector, or other creditor. It's important to act quickly because under Kentucky law you only have 20 days from the date you are served with the summons to file your answer. There are different ways to respond to a lawsuit, and it's important to understand your options.
Before we explore the mechanics of answering the question of how to draft an answer to a debt collection lawsuit, it's important to understand some of the terms involved.
Summons: This is the document that was attached to the front of the Complaint. It notifies you that a legal action has been filed against you and that you have twenty 20 days to file an answer.
Complaint: This is the lawsuit itself, prepared by either the plaintiff or their attorney, which makes the list of allegations of the plaintiff against you.
Answer: The formal legal document you file in response to the Complaint is called the Answer (although that word doesn't actually appear on the Summons; there, it is referred to as a "written defense").
Pleading: Any formal court document is a pleading and examples include both the Complaint and the Answer.
It's also very important to understand that this blog post is for informational purposes only and does not and cannot replace having a lawyer representing you in a case. Should you use the information contained on this post in your own defense, you do so at your own risk. You may have defenses and cross-claims and counterclaims which are not addressed in this post. If you'd like to talk with a lawyer, feel free to contact me.
Step 1 - The Caption
The style of the case, or the caption, helps the court and parties identify important information related to the case. Rules vary from state to state and county to county, but generally a pleading's caption or style is fairly consistent.
Commonwealth of Kentucky Fayette Circuit Court __ Division Case No. 18-C-1234 ABC Company, Inc., Plaintiff v. John Doe, Defendant ANSWER
At the top, you have the Court and the Case Number, followed by information about the parties. Finally, the name of the pleading (above, Answer). Most of this information can be obtained from the Complaint itself; you'll want to make sure that you've properly spelled everything and that there is no mistake in the case number.
Step 2 - Responding to the Allegations
This is the heart of the matter. How a response, or answer, is drafted is important because you are either agreeing with or denying the allegations made against you. Sometimes, there are multiple facts alleged in a single paragraph so answering can be a little difficult. Most of the time, there is really only one of three answers: admit, deny, or you don't know. With some legalese mixed in, here's the basic form I use in preparing answers on behalf of my clients.
v. John Doe, Defendant ANSWER Comes the Defendant, John Doe, and in response to the Plaintiff's Complaint, the Defendant states as follows: 1. In response to paragraph one of the Complaint, the Defendant admits the allegations contained therein. 2. In response to paragraph 2, the Defendant denies the allegations contained therein. 3. In response to paragraph 3, the Defendant is without sufficient knowledge to either admit or deny the allegations contained therein and therefore denies same.
Some lawyers "bundle" their answers by admitting to paragraphs 1, 3,-7, and 9 and denying paragraphs 2, 8, and 10-16. I prefer to respond to each numerical paragraph individually, especially to make sure I haven't missed anything in the Complaint. In the end, the answer should admit those allegations that the Defendant agrees with completely and should deny those things with which the Defendant denies. Keep it simple.
Step 3 - Affirmative Defenses Asserted
After you've responded to each of the allegations made against you, you may have certain defenses to raise. Sometimes, you waive the right to assert a particular defense if you don't raise it in your very first pleading with the Court. A defense could be something like, I already paid the debt. Or the debt collector didn't file the lawsuit in time and therefore the statute of limitations has run. Here are some common affirmative defenses (again, not all of these may apply in your case and there may be some defenses which do apply that aren't discussed below).
Statute of Limitations. A lawsuit must be brought within a certain time depending on the type of claim. By raising this defense, the defendant is alleging that the time permitted to file the lawsuit passed and, as a result, the lawsuit should be dismissed.
Payment. If you've already paid the debt that is allegedly owed, this is an obvious defense.
Accord and Satisfaction. This is like payment, but it isn't payment in full. It generally means that the parties agreed that the debt was satisfied for less than full amount.
The Kentucky Rules of Civil Procedure are a great place to look for different affirmative defenses. CR 8.03.
In addition to affirmative defenses, you may have a cause of action to assert against the plaintiff especially if debt collectors are involved. Some counterclaims are permissive and some are mandatory, meaning that if you don't allege them in the present lawsuit that you cannot later bring them up in a future lawsuit.
Serving Your Answer
Kentucky courts now accept electronically filed documents, except this is reserved only for lawyers. If a party proceeds pro se, meaning on their own and without a lawyer, then the pleadings will need to be filed with the clerk of the court.
Print out the original, sign it, and make a copy for your records and one to put into the mail for the plaintiff (or their attorney if the plaintiff is not acting pro se). Take all the copies down to the clerk and have them stamp them with the date the answer was filed. The clerk will keep the original; keep a file copy and mail the others to the appropriate party (usually you'll need to mail the copies). Completing a certificate of service like the one below is helpful (and required) to track what you have done and shows to the Court that you've provided the pleading on the appropriate individuals.
Respectfully submitted, [signed Jane Doe] John Doe, Plaintiff John's Address John's City, State ZIP John's Phone # Certificate of Service On the __ day of __month___, 2018, I served the foregoing answer on [Plaintiff or Plaintiff's Counsel, if any] at [Address] via U.S. Mail. [signed Jane Doe] John Doe, Plaintiff
After the Answer is filed and served, there are more steps involved. You may reach out to the Plaintiff about settling the case or you may need more information which you can obtain through a process called Discovery. You probably will need to do additional research and may need to contact an attorney to get advice on how to proceed going forward.
You have the right to represent yourself in Court and sometimes, out of necessity, that is the only option. But there are times when that is simply not a good idea. It's important to talk with a lawyer to discuss your options and to get an idea of the complexity of the case you are defending.
The information contained on this blog is for general information only and should not be considered to be legal advice. Because your situation is unique, you should consult with an attorney to determine what course of action is right for you.