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How Do I Respond to a Debt Collection Lawsuit?
In many cases when someone who is in debt starts to get certified mail, the instinct may be to refuse to pick up the letter or to toss it aside when you receive it. It may be that those people feel overwhelmed or just don’t know what to do, or don’t want to acknowledge how bad their financial situations have become. However, once you start receiving certified mail from a creditor, it’s typically because the creditor is moving toward taking legal action against you on the debt.
It’s a serious matter when a creditor decides to sue you for payment of a debt, and inaction can end up having a devastating effect on your finances and your life. If the creditor wins the lawsuit, you may face garnishment of your wages or having liens placed on your house, car, or other assets.
It’s important when you receive lawsuit papers that you take appropriate action. It may be that those people who don’t respond think they have no options and so they just give up, but there may actually be ways that you can defend yourself against the lawsuit with the help of an Ohio consumer lawyer.
Don’t Ignore the Lawsuit
When you receive lawsuit paperwork in Ohio, you have 28 days to submit a formal response to the court known as an answer. You have to respond to preserve your rights in court. When you don’t respond, the creditor can get what is known as a default judgment — which is like a baseball team winning a game because the other team just doesn’t show up. Once a lawsuit has been filed, you’re generally past the time that you can deal directly with the creditor yourself. You have to use the court process or risk the creditor getting a default judgment against you.
A default judgment basically says that what the creditor alleges in the lawsuit is true and that the creditor is entitled to the money it says you owe — because you never argued otherwise. A default judgment allows the creditor to proceed with garnishing your wages or bank account, or to put a lien on any assets you own, including your home, your car, or other property. A default judgment also will show up on your credit report as a judgment and will damage your credit rating.
If you don’t want all of that to happen, you have to file an answer to the lawsuit.
Read Your Court Papers Carefully
The first step toward responding to the lawsuit is to carefully read the lawsuit papers. The paperwork should consist of a summons and a complaint.
- Summons — The summons is a document generated by the court and includes information about the court where the lawsuit is filed, information about the parties to the lawsuit, and the date by which you must respond to the lawsuit.
- Complaint — The complaint is written by the plaintiff in the lawsuit and briefly describes who is being sued, the reason for the lawsuit, the legal basis for the lawsuit, and the remedy being sought. In a lawsuit regarding a debt, the complaint should say how much money you owe, why you owe it, and demand a judgment for the amount owed.
In a lawsuit regarding a debt, the complaint should include the following information:
- Your name and address
- The names and addresses of any other people who share the debt or co-signed the debt
- An assertion that the person or company suing you owns the debt (and therefore has the right to sue you)
- The reason for the debt, e.g., that it was a loan for the purchase of a car or a credit card agreement
- The date the debt was incurred
- The amount of the debt, plus any interest or fees such as attorney fees
- Some verification of the debt may be attached as well, such as a copy of the loan agreement
If any of this information is missing or incorrect, that may help provide a basis for your answer to the complaint, and your defense of the lawsuit.
Responding to the Lawsuit
Your initial response to the lawsuit will depend on what was in the lawsuit paperwork filed by the creditor. In some instances, you’ll make a formal response known as an answer. Other times, you may file a motion with the court seeking more information from the creditor known as a motion for more definite statement. An experienced Ohio consumer lawyer can look at the complaint and recommend the best course of action in your case.
Why Talk to an Ohio Consumer Law Attorney
Once you’ve been sued, you need to follow proper legal procedures to respond to the lawsuit and proceed with your defense. You can represent yourself, but you stand a better chance of success if you at least consult with a debtor defense lawyer about your case.
An experienced Ohio consumer lawyer will know the rules of the court and can ensure that the rules are followed properly when submitting your response and other legal paperwork. Depending on the circumstances, failure to follow the rules can result in a finding against you.