The Defendant’s Answer
The defendant must file an answer to the complaint within a certain period of time, usually 20 days or less. The answer tells the court in what ways the plaintiff’s prima facie case is defective and asserts any affirmative defenses. This is also the time to object if the case has been brought in the wrong court. In some states, the defendant may file a denial of all of the plaintiff’s allegations without addressing the specific issues raised by the plaintiff. This is called a general denial. The defendant may also deny the plaintiff’s allegations specifically. The advantage of specifically addressing the plaintiff’s allegations is that it personalizes the case for the judge. If the defendant is in the right, it is better for the judge to see the facts of the case. For example, assume that the defendant has been sued solely because his name appears on the plaintiff’s medical records. If the defendant did not treat the patient and did not have any legal duties to the patient, then it is better to explain this than to file a general denial. It is frustrating for both the plaintiff’s attorney and the defendant physician to fight a lawsuit for years, only to find at deposition that the plaintiff would have dismissed the case earlier if the defense attorney had explained the situation, rather than relying on a general denial.