By Jedidiah McKeehan

When someone comes to see me who has been sued, they will often tell me about the terrible things that the other side has done to them.  When they are telling me these things, I will consider whether the person has grounds for a Counter-Complaint, which is the name for a lawsuit filed back against the person suing you.

In order to be efficient, and so the court does not have to hear the same matter twice, the court hears the Complaint (the original lawsuit) and Counter-Complaint at the same time.

The way I try to describe a Counter-Complaint to people is, if you are just defending a lawsuit and you have no basis to sue the person suing you, then you file an Answer.  An Answer is your shield, and we use it to defend it against the allegations they are making against you.

However, if there is a real basis for a lawsuit back against the person who sued you, then we would file an Answer and Counter-Complaint.  When we file that, not only do we have a shield to defend against what they are saying, but we also have a sword to hit them back and try to recover damages of our own against them.

The perfect example of this is a divorce case.  When someone sues for divorce, the other person can file an Answer saying, “hey, I am not this terrible person that they claim that I am.”  However, unless a Counter-Complaint is filed, all you can do is defend against the bad things they say about you.  You are not legally allowed to say anything about the other person.  To go back to my analogy, you can use a shield, but you have no sword to swing back at them.

In lots of cases, there is no basis for a Counter-Complaint.  If you are being sued for a credit card debt or in a personal injury case where the wreck was clearly your fault, there is probably no basis for you filing Counter-Complaint.  However, it is always a good idea to discuss with your attorney the possibility of filing a Counter-Complain if you feel that you are owed anything from the person who has sued you.

When you file a Counter-Complaint, the person who filed the initial Complaint will need to file an Answer responding to the allegations of the Counter-Complaint.

Once this is done, if the matter proceeds to trial, the judge will make a ruling on who is entitled to what based upon whether the evidence presented supports the Complaint, the Counter-Complaint or whether the evidence falls somewhere in the middle.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  He works in many areas, including criminal, personal injury, landlord-tenant, probate, and estate planning. Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.