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Best Way to Answer a Summons

If you are new to the world of credit card lawsuits, it can be a daunting experience. Some people opt to hire an attorney to defend them. The attorney will take care of all the paper work and file your answer for you. However, for the majority of us, hiring an attorney is just not an option.

For those of you who have decided to fight your lawsuit and defend yourself pro se, although you are facing a real challenge, you have every possibility of winning.

If you are having difficulty knowing what to do next, The Defendant’s Package can help you file your answer.

Legal Terms

Let’s begin with the basics, assuming that you’re not familiar with the terms set out in your summons.

  • Plaintiff: This is the person or company suing you. You should recognize the name of the company but there are situations where you may not and the claim is still valid. We’ll talk about that later.

  • Defendant: This is the person who is being sued and will have to defend themselves against the allegations in the complaint.

  • Summons: This is a notice calling the defendant to appear in court.

  • The complaint: A legal document that should accompany the summons and sets out the facts and legal reasons (allegations) that the filing party believes are adequate to support a claim against the defendant.

Your Next Steps

Read the summons and complaint very carefully, making note of any dates and deadlines set out. Write the court date in your calendar, diary, planner or whatever you use to make sure you remember that date. You must appear in court on that date or you will lose by default.

Make note of any unfamiliar words and terminology and be sure to research these. You need to understand the issues as clearly as possible. Highlight any inaccuracies, errors or points not applicable to you or your situation. These may be used to your advantage later on.

You must answer your summons to avoid a default judgment against you. This would give the plaintiff the authority to begin garnishing your wages and seizing your bank accounts so it is crucial that you do not ignore your summons.

Time Restraints

Pay close attention to any deadlines given in your summons. Depending on where you live, you will have 20-30 calendar days to answer your summons and respond to the complaint. In most cases this time period begins the day you are served although some state rules may differ. Be sure to check your local court rules for definitive answers.

It is critical that you respond within this time or risk receiving a default judgment against you, meaning that you lose the case.

The Answer

This is a written document that responds to the claims and allegations set out in the complaint. This is your chance to explain why you think you do not owe the plaintiff the amount they say you do.

However, this is not a letter and must be set out formally and in accordance with your state laws. Some states provide their own forms to complete and you can find these either online or at the court clerk’s office. In other states you will need to format your own. The Defendant’s package explains how to set out your answer and provides examples.

In the complaint, each individual allegation is numbered and laid out in a separate paragraph. You must provide a response to each numbered complaint.

Check with your local court to the allowed responses for your answer but customarily, you should reply to each complaint with one of the three following answers:

  • Admit
  • Deny
  • Without Knowledge

Initially it is a good idea to draft out your responses as you consider each allegation carefully. It is appropriate to admit your name and address but be careful when admitting any other information that could incriminate you.

Remember that even if you know that you owe the debt to the said creditor, the burden of proof is with the plaintiff. This means that they must prove that you held an account with them, that you defaulted and that you owe the amount stated. They must provide adequate evidence that backs up their accusations and incredibly, it has been reported that around 90% of creditors suing for debt cannot provide that proof. The lesson here is, do not make it easy for them to win their case; make them do the hard work and make them prove that you owe them.

Affirmative Defenses

An affirmative defense relates to issues of law rather than fact. They are the legal reason why, even if the facts of the case are true, the defendant should not be held liable or the plaintiff does not present a legitimate claim.

In some states, you are allowed to list any affirmative defenses that you are planning to use in your response to your summons and complaint. Do your research and check with your local court if this is permissible where you are.

Some affirmative defenses that apply to most claims include:

  • Running of the statute of limitations – Each state sets time limits for filing a lawsuit. Check with your local court to see what the time limit is where you are. If, for example, it is 5 years and you defaulted 7 years ago, the statute of limitations on your case has expired and you cannot be sued on that account.

  • Failure to state a cause of action – Each complaint must state at least one legal reason for suing. If you cannot find this in the complaint, you may use this as a defense.

  • Laches – Plaintiffs are required to act promptly to enforce their rights. This defense may apply if the plaintiff delayed filing the lawsuit for a long time without good reason.

The Final Details

Before you send your answer, remember to check your local court’s requirements regarding certificates of service, filing fees and where to file your answer.

For more help with answering your summons, use The Defendant’s Package.