Instructions for Handling a Summons & Complaint

By Maggie Lourdes

When a person is sued, he is served with a summons and complaint. A summons is a court form that provides basic information about a particular case or legal matter. For example, it provides the court's address and the names of all parties in the lawsuit. It also details how many days a defendant has to file an answer with the court. The complaint describes the actual lawsuit. It states the facts involved in the dispute and legal grounds for the litigation.

Evaluate the Claims

Anyone served with a summons and complaint should carefully evaluate both documents. The summons gives important information regarding the court, its filing deadlines and required appearance dates. It also states general facts about your legal rights. For example, it may provide information about available assistance at the courthouse for disabled litigants. The complaint provides the legal basis and facts surrounding the actual dispute. It names all parties being sued and details the allegations and claims.

Decide if You Need Legal Help

Many people choose to represent themselves in court. For example, generally, small claims cases are litigated without the assistance of lawyers. Reputable, third-party legal websites offer valuable information on legal topics that may assist with simple lawsuits. However, if a lawsuit is complicated or hotly-contested, consulting with a lawyer is a wise. Lawsuits are serious matters and it's important to take reasonable, legal steps to protect your rights.

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Answer the Lawsuit

An answer to a lawsuit must be filed with the court and sent to all litigants. You can speak to a court clerk to ensure compliance with filing and service procedures. Generally, a caption appears on the first page of an answer. It states information such as the identity of the court involved, the assigned judge, parties in the case and court docket number. Each individual allegation in the lawsuit must be admitted or denied. Sometimes you can state you do not have sufficient information to admit or deny a specific allegation.


Sometimes you may have grievances against the person who is suing you. For example, Jane is sued by her neighbor for backing into his car and denting its hood. However, the car was illegally parked. Jane believes her neighbor should pay for the damage her car received in the collision. Thus, she may countersue him, which means both parties are now suing one another. Counterclaims are generally filed with your answer to the original lawsuit.

Appear in Court

If you're a party to a lawsuit, you must appear in court on all scheduled dates. The summons notes any initial requirements to appear. The court may also schedule subsequent appearance dates as the lawsuit proceeds. If an emergency arises that prevents your appearance, the court should be notified immediately. A judge must grant permission to reschedule a court date.

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