I was served with a lawsuit. What should I do?
This page has information about your options if you have been served with a lawsuit (a Petition and citation).
- Talk to a lawyer. A lawyer can tell you what the person who has sued you is asking for and give you advice about your options. Also, if you think there is some legal reason that the case should not be heard in the place where the Petitioner filed it, or should not be heard at all, go quickly to a lawyer to get legal advice about your case before you sign or file any papers. You must protect some rights in special ways or you can lose them, and you may need to do this before you sign or file any papers. If the Petitioner made a mistake, you might not be able to object to the mistake after you file a response to the lawsuit.
- If you are representing yourself as a respondent or defendant, you have choices.
- Waiver of Citation. The court clerk maintains a waiver of citation form. The waiver form states that the person who signs it has received a copy of the filed Petition and is giving up the right to get official notice by issuance and service of citation. If you want to make sure you keep the right to get notice about each court hearing and take part in the case, you may file an Answer to the lawsuit with the clerk's office.
- File an Answer. An Answer is sometimes called an “Original Answer” or a “General Denial.” There is no fee to file an Answer. You are required to send a copy of the Answer you file to the person who signed the lawsuit against you and keep a copy for yourself. After you file the Answer, the Petitioner must send you written notice of the date and time of any court hearings and give you a copy of any papers he or she filed in the case.
- You have a limited time to file your Answer. In most cases, counting from the day you were served, you have 20 days plus until the following Monday, at 10 a.m. to file your Answer. Count all the calendar days including weekends and holidays. However, in some kind of cases, the Answer deadline is shorter than 20 days. For example, an eviction Answer must be filed anywhere from 6 to 10 days, depending on the county. If you do not file your Answer by the deadline, the Petitioner may try to get a default judgment against you.
- What happens if you do not file an Answer? If you, the Respondent, receive legal notice but do not file any kind of response or Answer and do not ever come to a hearing in the case, then the Petitioner may try to get a “default judgment.” A default judgment means the person who filed the case generally wins without any contest from the opposing party. For more information about default judgments, see the Default Judgment information on TexasLawHelp.org.
- What is in the Answer? An Answer usually has a general denial, which is a statement asking the court to make the Petitioner prove each and every part of his or her case. The Answer may also have specific defenses to some claims.
- Forms. You can find forms for different kinds of Answers and possible defenses in a law library, the State Law Library, a public library, or on TexasLawHelp.org. If you were sued for collection of a debt, there is an Answer form on Texas Appleseed's website, https://www.mydebtcollectionrightstexas.org/. If you are using eFile Texas, there is an Answer form on the eFile Texas Self Help website.
- File a Counter-Petition if you want to make your own claims against the Petitioner. The Answer by itself does not make claims against the Petitioner. If you want to make your own claims against the Petitioner or Plaintiff and have the court award you something, you must file a “Counter-Petition.”
- While there is no fee to file an Answer, there will be a filing fee if you file a Counter-Petition unless you file a Statement of Inability to Afford Payment of Court Costs and the judge says you do not have to pay.
- If you want to file a Counter-Petition, ask a lawyer to help you.
- Serve on all other parties. Whether you file an Answer, a Counter-Petition or any other paper in your case, you must give a copy of each paper to each party in the case. This is called “service.”
- How to serve papers. To serve papers such as an Answer after the case is filed, send them by certified mail, fax, or hand delivery. If the document was filed electronically through eFile Texas, the document may be served electronically if eFile Texas has the other side's email address.
- Get a receipt if you hand deliver. If you hand deliver the papers, get a receipt so you have proof that the person received them.
- How to serve a party. If a party is represented by a lawyer, serve the lawyer. If the party does not have a lawyer, serve the party.