Getting served paperwork by a creditor or debt collector can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Especially if this is your first time dealing with the legal system. Getting served papers by the court means that you are now expected to abide by a dizzying set of rules and procedures. It is crucial that you respond correctly and timely. The first step, however, is to determine what court you are dealing with.
Have You Been Served By The Magistrate?
The magistrate courts operate a bit different than most and service is typically(but not always) performed via certified mail. Relative to the response required in other courts, the magistrate court system is far simpler to deal with although it is always recommended to consult with an attorney before making legal decisions. A single incorrect decision can have far reaching consequences.
Once you have been served by the court, your required response is to notify the court if you intend to defend against the lawsuit. If you don't, you need not do anything. A judgment will be entered against you automatically and Plaintiff will decide when/how they will proceed with that judgment. This, however, is far from recommended. You should never just allow a default judgment to occur unless you fully understand the power a judgment gives to Plaintiff.
If you do intent to defend, you must notify the magistrate. Depending on the magistrate, they may have you fax, email or mail your intent to them. Some will allow you to give your intent to defend in person. Once the intent to defend is received by the court, they will typically schedule a new hearing date to give ample time for the Plaintiff to be notified of your intent. The magistrate will mail all parties involved a rescheduling notice.
Is Your Case In The Court Of Common Pleas?
If your case has been filed in the Court of Common Pleas, things are going to be far more complex. Consulting with an attorney is absolutely recommended. At this court, complaints must be answered within 20 days from the date of filing. Answers to the complaint typically include a response to each numbered paragraph in the Plaintiff's complaint along with a New Matter and counterclaim if applicable. Alternatively, and if applicable, the responsive pleading can be in the form of Preliminary Objections. The response to the complaint is absolutely crucial. This is where you raise your affirmative defenses and deny any item in the complaint that is not truthful.
If you do not answer the complaint within 20 days, Plaintiff will mail a 'Notice of Default', commonly called a '10 Day Notice'. This notice is a warning to you that you have 10 days(from the date of the letter, not receipt) to file an answer to the complaint or suffer a default judgment. Again, it is never advisable to allow a default judgment to occur without understanding the gravity of the situation. Court judgments should be taken very seriously as the give Plaintiff the power to reach into your bank account(with exceptions) to take the money they claim you owe. Additionally, judgments carry interest at a rate of 6% and do not just go away. They will stick with you until they are satisfied.
Answering The Complaint Is Only The Beginning
Answering the complaint, although crucial, is just the first step. From here, you are onto interrogatories and admissions(if in the Common Pleas) or gathering the necessary evidence to dispute the allegations at the hearing(if the magistrate). Even if you are at this point and have already answered the complaint yourself, you do still have time and opportunity to consult with an attorney. We have had many clients come to us with cases already well under way. It is, however, more likely to be complicated the longer you wait to involve an attorney. This is because you may have already taken actions that can't be reversed.
It Is Never Too Late To Talk To Us
No matter where you are in your legal defense, you are always welcome to give us a call. We give free, no obligation consultations to anyone with a debt collection lawsuit against them no matter if you have just received the complaint or if you are merely a week away from your trial. You have options, but you must act on them. A great start would be to give us a call and let us help you prepare a defense.