We have previously described the content and format of a "complaint"; the document that is utilized to begin a lawsuit. When the clerk of the court receives the complaint, with the filing fee, the complaint is now ready to be issued from the court in a form that can be "served" on the defendant. The complaint is served with a summons which is issued by the clerk of the court ordering the defendant to provide an Answer to the complaint within a certain period of time. The period of time to answer the complaint can vary depending on who the defendant is. For instance, an individual may have 20 or 30 days to answer the complaint, depending on the jurisdiction, while a corporation, an out-of-state defendant, or a governmental agency may have 60 days to answer the same complaint. When the defendant receives the complaint, known as being "served with the complaint", an affidavit of service is filed with the court to notify the court of the date on which the defendant's obligation to file an answer begins to run. The defendant's answer sets forth their response to each of the factual allegations in the complaint and asserts their own defenses such as, contributory negligence or assumption of the risk. When a defendant files the answer with the court and serves it on the plaintiff, the parties have now been legally engaged and the case is considered "at issue". The legal wrangling can now begin.
by Ira Sherman