It happens. You’re having a great day and then someone shows up at your door and hands you a lawsuit. What now?
The first thing you need to do is gather some information.
- Which court is the lawsuit assigned to? (District Court, County Court at Law, Justice Court aka Justice of the Peace).
- What day was the lawsuit handed to you?
- Who sued you (the Plaintiff)?
This information will help you decide what to do. And, if you decide to hire a lawyer, this information will help the lawyer quickly assess the situation.
Which court is the lawsuit assigned to? Most lawsuits like this one are filed in Justice Court, also known as Justice of the Peace. These Courts are designed to allow the plaintiff or defendant to represent themselves. It may not be necessary to hire a lawyer. If the lawsuit was filed in District Court or County Court at Law, it is very difficult to represent yourself. You should hire a lawyer to represent you.
What day was the lawsuit handed to you? The day the lawsuit was handed to you is called the “service date”. The deadline to file an answer is based on the service date. An “answer” is your written response to the lawsuit. If you do not file an answer, the plaintiff will get a judgment against you. If the lawsuit was filed in a Justice Court, count 14 days after the service date. If day 14 is a Saturday or Sunday, your answer is due on Monday. If day 14 is a legal holiday, your answer is due on day 15. Otherwise, your answer is due on day 14.
If the lawsuit was filed in District or County Court at Law, count 20 days after the service date. Then, find the next Monday on your calendar. That’s the day your answer is due. If that Monday is a legal holiday, your answer is due on Tuesday. If day 20 is a Monday, your answer is due on the following Monday.
Sometimes, a lawsuit will be mailed or attached to your front door. Normally, a lawsuit must be handed to person that is being served. But, sometime that person doesn’t make it easy. So, the Plaintiff may ask the Judge for special permission to serve the lawsuit by some other method, such as mail or attaching to the front door. Look for the service date on the document.
Who sued you (the Plaintiff)? Is it the original creditor (Discover, Synchrony Bank, American Express, FIA, Capital One, etc). Or, is it a debt buyer (Portfolio Recovery, Midland Funding, CACH, Velocity Investments, Jefferson Capital, etc)?
The original creditor can almost always prove you owe the debt. We’ll find out for sure, but going to trial probably isn’t a winning plan. These cases are routinely settled for considerably less than the amount due. Settlement payment plans are common.
The debt buyer bought the debt from the original creditor or another debt buyer. They may not have the evidence necessary to win a trial. I’ve seen debt buyer attorneys show up at trial with literally no evidence at all. They did not sue you to fight. They sued to get a default judgment. If it makes sense in your case, I will work towards a “take-nothing” judgment or get the lawsuit dismissed. If that doesn’t work, these cases are routinely settled for considerably less than the amount due. Settlement payment plans are common.
If a settlement is all you want, I recommend you call the office of the plaintiff’s attorney soon after you’ve been served with the lawsuit. The phone number will be on the paperwork. Make an offer to settle the lawsuit. They will most likely make a counter-offer. Then, call me. I don’t understand why, but it is often easier to get a significantly reduced settlement if you hire an attorney to file an answer and negotiate the settlement.
Coming in Part 2…should you fight, settle, or just file a bankruptcy?