If someone wants to collect an unpaid debt, they may start a lawsuit against you. You may not even know about the debt until a “Summons and Complaint” are delivered to your home.
If you receive legal documents called a “Complaint” and “Summons,” you are being sued. The Complaint will tell you who’s suing you (called the “Plaintiff”). Read the documents carefully. If you’ve never heard of the plaintiff, it might be a debt buyer or collection agency. Even if there is no court case number, the lawsuit is still valid! You will be listed as the “defendant” because you’re defending against the lawsuit.
The Complaint should say what the plaintiff thinks the debt is for, how much it thinks you owe, and how long you’ve owed the debt. The plaintiff may say you also owe interest, late charges, and that you owe attorney fees and court costs too— the cost of the lawsuit itself!
The Summons will probably have important deadlines for when to respond with your own side of the story (called your “Answer.”) Act fast! If you toss the Complaint and Summons aside and ignore them, the lawsuit may not go away and you may automatically lose.
Read the complaint carefully again: do you really owe the amount they say you do? Check your records to make sure. How old is the debt? It may be past the legal time limit to sue you (called the Statute of Limitations). You may have other defenses to the lawsuit.
Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. If you ignore the Complaint and don’t file your Answer within 20 days of the date the Summons and Complaint were handed to you, it’s as good as admitting that everything the plaintiff says is true. If you don’t respond with an answer, the plaintiff will win automatically and get a “Default Judgment” against you.
But you can file an Answer if you don’t agree with everything in the Complaint. “You should file a written answer if you dispute the debt or if you don’t know if it is your debt.” Be sure to come to court prepared with documents to explain your side of the story. You can learn more about How to Answer a Summons for Debt Collection here.
The judge may agree you don’t owe all the debt. But even if you file an Answer, and show up at the court date, the judge may still agree with the plaintiff and say you owe some or all of the debt.
If so, the judge issues a “Judgment” against you. With a “Judgment” or “Default Judgment,” the plaintiff can try to collect money from your bank account, paycheck, or property. But they can’t take all of your money and property. Many kinds of money and property are protected by law or “exempt” from collection.
So whenever you receive a legal notice or “summon” act fast and respond to the summon. You should immediately tell your side of the story.