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Responding to a Civil Lawsuit  

Last Updated: May 31, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

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This Resource Guide for Responding to a Lawsuit is designed to direct you to a number of resources and locations where you can get help to respond to your summons and complaint in a civil matter. This Guide focuses on civil cases in San Diego County Superior Court.

This guide is not intended as a substitute for doing your own research.


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If you have been served with a summons and a complaint, this means a lawsuit has been initiated against you. It is important to carefully review the paperwork, take note of deadlines, and file your responses timely and in the correct format.

Review the Complaint

As an initial step, review the complaint. This will tell you who is suing you and what the lawsuit is about. The complaint will include factual allegations, as well as references to statutes and case law to support their claims. Near the end of the complaint, you will find the Prayer, or Request, for Relief, which will provide a summary of what the plaintiff is requesting, such as a sum of money. 


After reviewing the complaint, consider your options. You may decide to hire an attorney to represent you, or do the research and represent yourself in court. You may reach out to the other party to settle the case outside of court, for example by agreeing to pay a sum of money in exchange for the plaintiff dropping the case. Note that negotiations do not automatically stop the lawsuit, and you should continue to pay attention to filing deadlines. Settlement agreements should be in writing, and the Plaintiff must file a Request for Dismissal to stop the case.

Another option is alternative dispute resolution, such as mediation. You can read more about the San Diego Superior Court Mediation Program here.

Filing a response, such as an answer, is the first step in informing the Court that you are disputing the claims in the complaint. This guide will walk you through different options for responses.



It is important to pay close attention to deadlines for answering your complaint. Failing to file an answer can result in a default judgment, meaning the court will rule in favor of the plaintiff without you having the chance to plead your case. Following default, your wages and other property can be taken from you without further notice from the court.

Generally, you have 30 days from the date of service to file your response, which includes weekends and holidays. How many days you have for response will be listed on the summons of your complaint.

You may ask the plaintiff to allow you one 15-day extension. If both parties agree to the extension, you do not need to request permission from the court.



    Answer: The defendant's response to the complaint.

    Complaint: A written statement filed by the plaintiff that starts the lawsuit.

    Default Judgment: A court decision in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant does not respond to the lawsuit.

    Defendant: The person against whom the complaint was filed.

    Demurrer: Statement from the defendant that even if the plaintiff's allegations are true, they are not enough to establish the defendant's liability.

    Motion: An oral or written request for the court to make a ruling on an order.

    Plaintiff: The person or party who filed the complaint.

    Pleading: A written statement filed with the court, such as a complaint or an answer.

    Service of Process: Delivery of legal papers to the opposing party.

    Summons: A notice to the defendant that a complaint was filed against him or her, and a statement indicating that a default judgment will follow if the defendant does not respond within a specified time.

    Verification: A statement, typically made under oath, saying that something is true.


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