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A Question of Burden – General versus Affirmative Defenses

“General” versus “Affirmative” Defenses

Many debt defendants love the idea of affirmative defenses – they just sound stronger, don’t they? But in the law, they are specific things, and they are not better than general defenses. They’re just different. If you have an affirmative defense, that’s fine, and you probably wouldn’t want to ignore it. But general defenses are really the “bread and butter” of defense.

So what are these two types of defense?

General Defense or Denial

A general defense is one of two things. It CAN mean a general denial of every allegation in the petition. You’re saying, “prove it” to everything. Since the debt collector has the burden of proof, I would suggest you consider this if it is available to you. It’s easy, fast, and comprehensive. But of course your next move is on to discovery and the rest of defense.

Generically, a “general defense” is one where you deny an allegation. So, above, you could file a “general defense” which denies all paragraphs (if your jurisdiction allows this). Or normally you would simply deny all or most of the paragraphs of the plaintiff’s petition. Every denial is a “general defense” that leaves the burden of proof on the plaintiff.

Affirmative Defenses

Affirmative defenses are something else. They amount to a statement that, “even if what the plaintiff is true, I don’t owe because …”

One example of this might be a settlement – suppose you entered an agreement to pay and did pay the other side, but they sue you anyway. If so, your general denial will be to deny the allegations of the petition, but then you’ll add an affirmative defense: On x day, the parties entered into settlement discussions and formed an agreement. Defendant fully performed this agreement on y day, paying z dollars for a “complete settlement of all claims.” See, attached (a copy of the agreement).

Thus, the facts that you have alleged amount to a complete defense to the action (known as “accord and satisfaction). And note that the facts are pleaded with “particularity” (in detail), and the defendant has the burden of proof of these things.

Other examples of affirmative defenses include collateral estoppel, res judicata, unclean hands, statute of limitations, and laches. There could be others. In each case the defendant would bear the burden of pleading the facts constituting the defense and proving them at trial. Since a general denial leaves the burden of proof on the plaintiff, they’re usually more important.