Getting a case slapped on you for non-payment of a debt can really be extremely upsetting unless you are a habitual offender. On top of that dealing with the complexities of the legal system can also prove to be quite intimidating. Fortunately, with the right assistance, dealing with a debt collection suit is not as difficult as everyone tends to assume, and you also have recourse to a variety of defenses that can lead to a favorable outcome.
If the amount you are being sued for is less than a particular amount specified by your state, the case will be heard in a small claims court that has relatively informal procedures. Both parties must represent themselves for a hearing that typically lasts for less than an hour. Claims for higher amounts will be heard in higher and more formal courts. However, regardless of the court assigned for the hearing, you need to have first been served personally by a county officer in uniform or even a private process server. The summons will contain information regarding the reason for the lawsuit, the amount of money involved, and who has initiated the case besides the date, time and the court for the first hearing.
The Need to Respond
It is important to remember that lawsuits do not go away if you just keep silent after receiving the summons. Failing to respond to the summons can make you lose the case as a default judgment may be obtained that may include a bank account or a wage garnishment. Some states like Minnesota permit starting of lawsuits without a court filing, however if the complainant does not file it within a year, the case is dismissed and can never be pursued again.Responding to the lawsuit is not an acknowledgement of your guilt; it merely ensures that a default judgment cannot be obtained against you. Answering the summons gets you powerful leverage against the complainant as now they know they need to proceed against you to get their money back.
Engaging a Lawyer Need Not Be Expensive
While you can respond by yourself, engaging a lawyer to assist you may be advisable. The lawyer will explain the details of the case and the available options and also advise you on how to best negotiate a settlement or fight it for a favorable decision. There are many consumer law attorneys who offer free consultation and if they think that your defense has merits they may be willing to fight the case free of charge as collection agency will pay their fees if they settle or lose the case. A smart lawyer will immediately be able to tell you if the collection agency has all the documentation to effectively fight the case and win. Most of the cases initiated by these agencies have little or no documentation to back the claim so you have a very good chance to have the suit against you dismissed.
Ways of Responding to the Summons
One of the best ways of responding is contacting the plaintiff and attempting to settle the lawsuit out-of-court. This works best if you agree with the complainant’s facts and figures regarding the debt owed and can afford to settle the case. Often both parties find this route convenient as it saves the hassle and expense of fighting legal battles. In case you are able to reach a settlement that is to your liking then make sure that you get all the agreement specifics in writing before you actually make any payment. The agreement needs to be signed by both the parties and filed before the concerned court. Be sure to get a confirmation of filing from the court clerk and keep a copy of the signed agreement for your records.
If you choose not to try and negotiate an out-of-court settlement because you disagree with the information in the summons such as the amount of the debt or the very fact that it is outstanding, then you can file a response to the concerned court. You can contest the information and even request the court to dismiss the case. If you believe that the summons has violated your rights, then you can also sue the debt collection agency or creditor.