(redirected from known all the answers)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Financial, Encyclopedia.


The first responsive pleading filed by the defendant in a civil action; a formal written statement that admits or denies the allegations in the complaint and sets forth any available affirmative defenses.

The answer gives the plaintiff notice of the issues the defendant will raise as the case progresses and enables the plaintiff to adequately prepare a case. In most jurisdictions, the answer must be filed within twenty days after receipt of the summons and complaint, although local rules and customs may dictate different filing times.

The answer begins with a caption, which identifies the location of the action, the court, the docket or file number (assigned by the court), and the title of the case (comprising the names of the parties, e.g., Smith v. Jones). Following the caption, the main body of the answer sets forth admissions or denials that respond to each allegation made in the complaint. In federal court and in jurisdictions that follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, denials must be unambiguous and stated in concise language that clearly identifies the allegations being denied (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(b)). For example, if the complaint alleges that the defendant was driving an automobile that struck the plaintiff on Addison Street in Chicago on March 11, an answer stating that the defendant was in Milwaukee on March 11 is unclear and ambiguous because it avoids the question of whether the defendant was also in Chicago at a different time on the same day.

The answer may plead any form of denial that is truthful and made in Good Faith. Although general denials that deny the truth of every fact in the complaint or of every element of a charge are sometimes used, they are not considered a sufficient response. Courts discourage general denials because they fail to respond to specific allegations and do not give the plaintiff sufficient basis to prepare a case. If the defendant lacks the knowledge or information needed to respond to the truth or falsity of a charge, rule 8(b) and similar rules in other jurisdictions allow the defendant to state such in the answer. This has the effect of a denial (rule 8(b)). If the defendant fails to respond to an allegation by either denying it or by stating he or she does not have the information necessary to admit or deny it, it is considered admitted under rule 8(d).

Following the admissions and denials, the answer outlines any affirmative defenses available to the defendant. Affirmative defenses, which are grounded in Substantive Law, state that an allegation may or may not be true, but that even if it is true, the law provides a legal defense that defeats the plaintiff's claim. The defendant must determine if the law allows an affirmative defense to a charge, and must allege sufficient facts to support the defense. For example, in a Negligence action, the defendant might respond to an allegation that a duty of care was owed to the plaintiff by stating that, even if the allegation is true, the plaintiff assumed the risk of the activity that led to the injury. The defendant must then state the facts that support the defense. It is critical to the defendant's case that all applicable affirmative defenses are asserted. In most jurisdictions, affirmative defenses not raised in a timely manner in the defendant's responsive Pleading are deemed to have been waived.

The answer, like the complaint, ends with a "wherefore" clause that summarizes the defendant's demands, such as demands for a jury trial and judgment in the defendant's favor. Only one wherefore clause is generally needed, although local practice may dictate that each denial and each affirmative defense have its own wherefore clause.

Counterclaims and cross-claims sometimes appear in the answer. A counterclaim arises when the defendant's response includes a claim against the plaintiff. A counterclaim may come from the same circumstances as the plaintiff's claim or from a different set of facts. A cross-claim may be filed when one party to a suit charges another party with responsibility for the plaintiff's injuries or damages. Under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure rule 13(g), a cross-claim must arise out of "the transaction or occurrence that is the subject matter either of the original action or of a counterclaim therein or relating to any property that is the subject matter of the original action." A cross-claim may also be filed separately from the answer. Because counterclaims and cross-claims raise new issues and initiate a separate Cause of Action, they must meet the procedural requirements of a complaint.

Further readings

James, Fleming, Jr. 1965. Civil Procedure. Boston: Little, Brown.

McCord, James W.H. "Drafting the Complaint: Defending and Testing the Lawsuit." Practicing Law Institute 447:399.

Witus, Morley. "What Is the Answer? New Guidelines on How to Draft the Answer and Affirmative Defenses." Michigan Bar Journal 73:1076.


Civil Procedure.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


n. in law, a written pleading filed by a defendant to respond to a complaint in a lawsuit filed and served upon that defendant. An answer generally responds to each allegation in the complaint by denying or admitting it, or admitting in part and denying in part. The answer may also comprise "affirmative defenses" including allegations which contradict the complaint or contain legal theories (like "unclean hands," "contributory negligence" or "anticipatory breach") which are intended to derail the claims in the complaint. Sometimes the answer is in the form of a "general denial," denying everything. The answer must be in typed form, follow specific rules of pleading established by law and the courts, and be filed with the court and served on the defendant within a specific statutory time (e.g. 30 days after service of the complaint). If the complaint is verified as under penalty of perjury, the answer must be also. There is a fairly steep filing fee for each defendant filing an answer. In short, if served a complaint, one should see a lawyer as soon as possible to prevent a default judgment. (See: complaint, general denial, verification, demurrer)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

ANSWER, pleading in equity. A defence in writing made by a defendant, to the charges contained in a bill or information, filed by the plaintiff against him in a court of equity. The word answer involves a double sense; it is one thing when it simply replies to a question, another when it meets a charge; the answer in equity includes both senses, and may be divided into an examination and a defence. In that part which consists of an examination, a direct and full answer, or reply, must in general be given to every question asked. In that part which consists of a defence, the defendant must state his, case distinctly; but is not required to give information respecting the proofs that are to maintain it. Gresl. Eq. Ev. 19.
     2. As a defendant is called by a bill or information to make a discovery of the several charges it contains, he must do so, unless he is protected either by a demurrer a plea or disclaimer. It may be laid down as an invariable rule, that whatever part of a bill or information is not covered by one of these, must be defended by answer. Redesd. Tr. Ch. Pl. 244.
     3. In form, it usually begins, 1st, with its title, specifying which of the defendants it is the answer of, and the names of the plaintiffs in the cause in which it is filed as answer; 2d, it reserves to the defendant all the advantages which might be taken by exception to the bill; 3d, the substance of the answer, according to the defendant's knowledge, remembrance, information and belief, then follows, in which the matter of the bill, with the interrogatories founded thereon, are answered, one after the other, together with such additional matter as the defendant thinks necessary to bring forward in his, defence, either for the purpose of qualifying, or adding to, the case made by the bill, or to state a new case on his own behalf; 4th, this is followed by a general traverse or denial of all unlawful combinations charged in the bill, and of all other matters therein contained 5th, the answer is always upon oath or affirmation, except in the case of a corporation, in which case it is under the corporate seal.
     4. In substance, the answer ought to contain, 1st, a statement of facts and not arguments 2d, a confession and avoidance, or traverse and denial of the material parts of the bill 3d, its language ought to be direct and without evasion. Vide generally as to answers, Redes. Tr. Ch. Pl. 244 to 254; Coop. Pl. Eq. 312 to 327; Beames Pl. Eq. 34 et seq.; Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t. For an historical account of this instrument, see 2 Bro. Civ. Law, 371, n. and Barton's Hist. Treatise of a Suit in Equity.

ANSWER, practice. The declaration of a fact by a witness after a question has been put asking for it.
     2. If a witness unexpectedly state facts against the interest of the party calling him, other witnesses may be called by the same party, to disprove those facts. But the party calling a witness cannot discredit him, by calling witnesses to prove his bad character for truth and veracity, or by proving that he has made statements out of court contrary to what he has sworn on the trial; B. N. P.; for the production of the witness is virtually an assertion by the party producing him, that he is credible.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.