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The Importance of the Defendant’s Answer

courtroom-of-styleMany people believe that once a lawsuit has been filed the matter immediately is bound for a court room. While that it is true to some extent, there is a crucial step that must occur after a complaint has been filed: the answer. Under the laws of Massachusetts, once a party has filed a lawsuit there is a certain time that party has to “serve” the defendant with his or her complaint. After this, the defendant is then responsible for filing an answer to the complaint. This is the first opportunity that the defendant has to respond to the allegations put forth in the plaintiff’s complaint. For instance, if part of a complaint for a slip and fall case alleges that the defendant is the owner of a certain parcel of land, the answer would be the appropriate document to respond by either admitting this fact or denying this fact- nothing more or less.

In some situations it can be impossible for a defendant to respond by either admitting the facts in the complaint or denying the facts in the complaint. While these situations are not necessarily common- a defendant does have the ability to claim that they are without sufficient information to properly admit or deny the allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint. While the answers can be relatively brief in comparison to a plaintiff’s verbose complaint- the filing of an answer is a vital document that should best be prepared with an attorney with a background knowledge of the intricacies that are involved with complex litigation matters. Admitting or denying a fact can have huge repressions and should be approached with lawyer for best results.

Answers to complaints must be filed in a timely manner or the defendant runs the risk of committing a disastrous result. Under Rule 55 of the Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure:

“When a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend as provided by these rules and that fact is made to appear by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk shall enter his default.”

In other words, if a defendant does not timely respond to the allegations contained within the complaint through his or her answer, the court is authorized to enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff- meaning the plaintiff may get the relief he or she initially requested. Any attempt by a defendant to then set aside a default judgment can be an uphill battle and good reason must be given and shown to the court for a judge to step in and remove a default judgment that has been entered.

In order to remove a default judgment the person attempting to do so must show a lack of prejudice to the adverse party, the defaulted party’s freedom from gross neglect in allowing the default or in correcting it, the fact that the defaulted party has a meritorious defense, and the importance of the underlying action. The net effect of this would be numerous court appointments and hefty legal fees in fixing a party’s lack of answer. Assuming that everything worked out for the defaulted party in having the default removed- an answer would still then have to be filed.

If you believe that you have a case, or a case has been filed against you, it’s important to consult with an attorney who has knowledge of these matters. There are numerous procedural hurdles that must be dealt with in order to successfully litigate or defend a matter.  To schedule a free consultation with lawyer Daniel Cappetta, call our office today at (508) 969-9505 or fill out or contact form available on the right side of this page.