Narrator: What to do if you are sued about a debt. This video will tell you what you can do if a company sues you to collect a debt. This video is for information only and is not meant to provide legal advice. Information may become outdated as laws change.The legal information in this video applies only to Georgia.
Never Ignore a Lawsuit
You should talk to a lawyer about your individual situation.
The most important thing you should know is never ignore a lawsuit.
If you do not take certain steps, the company suing you will automatically win. It can get a default judgement against you, even if the claims are false. Then it will be able to use the default judgment to go after some of your wages or your bank accounts to pay the debt. You can learn more about that in another video called “When Can You Be Garnished?”
Don’t miss Court deadlines.
You should always pick up your regular and certified mail and accept notices about court actions so that you know when you are being sued. There are deadlines to respond to court papers. Do not miss any deadlines, because that may also result in a default judgement. The good news is, if you respond in time, you may be able to raise some very strong defenses and win the case.
The complaint tells you why you are being sued. The summons tells you why and when to respond to a lawsuit.
When someone sues you, they start by writing a complaint and filing it at the court. The complaint says why the company is suing you. You will get a copy of the complaint. The summons will tell how and when to respond to the lawsuit. Now it is your turn to answer the complaint. Always to do this in writing. If you can’t tell from the summons when to respond, you can ask the Clerk of Court about court procedures. However, the clerk cannot give you legal advice. The complaint will include statements about the debt and about you. If any statements are false, you must tell the court by denying them in your answer.
Answering the lawsuit
If you don’t, the court will consider the statements to be true. In your answer, list which statements you deny. Also, list which statements you don’t have enough information about to know if they are true or false. Your answer should also tell the court any reasons why you shouldn’t have to pay the debt. Here are some common reasons for defenses:
It is not your debt. You may be a victim of identity theft, or the collector may be trying to get you to pay a family member’s debt or a business account that isn’t legally your responsibility.
You have already paid all you owed, or you included the debt in a bankruptcy, or the company agreed to forgive part of the debt if you made a certain payment.
The amount is wrong. Perhaps because some of your payments haven’t been credited, or the collector is charging too much interest or fees.
You may have other defenses. For example, that the debt is too old to collect, or that the company collecting it doesn’t have the right to do so. A lawyer can help you raise these defenses, but you can also raise them yourself.
Answers often look like this. You should put the name of the court, the case name, and the case number at the top of your answer. You should sign it and date it and put your contact information under your signature. After you finish writing your answer, take it to the court clerk and ask the clerk to file it.Send a copy of it to the lawyer for the company that sued you. Keep a copy for yourself.
Dismissal, court hearing, discovery.
After you have filed your answer, several different things can happen.
The case may be dismissed. There may be a hearing. Another possibility is a process called discovery. The lawyer for the collector may send you papers asking questions about the case. Asking you to admit certain facts or asking you to produce copies of documents. You may also be asked to appear at an office to answer questions under oath. Just like the complaint, you must respond to these documents and comply with the requirements, or it will hurt your case. It is especially important to respond to requests for admissions by denying any statements that are not true, just as you did with the complaint.
Never ignore “Requests for Admissions of Facts”
In Georgia, sometimes requests for admissions are sent to you with the complaint. In this case, the deadline for filing your response is the same as the deadline to answer the complaint. The date should be listed on your summons.
There may be a hearing. At the hearing, the company suing you will talk first. You get to talk next. You should show the judge anything you have that will help you prove your case. You can bring important papers such as agreements, letters, account statements, or proof of payment. You can also bring witnesses -- people who know firsthand about your case. Don’t be afraid to ask clerks and other court employees about the court process. They cannot give you legal advice, but they can explain the process.Don’t expect the lawyer for the debt collector to tell you what’s going on. His job is to collect money from you, not to give you advice. And don’t pay for help from anyone who is not a lawyer.
Avoid default judgments
To review, you should never ignore documents or miss deadlines, because that can result in a default judgment against you. When you respond, tell the judge if anything the collector says isn’t true and if there are reasons why you should not have to pay. Georgia requires you to do this in writing. Try to get a lawyer to represent you, but if you can’t, don’t be afraid to ask court employees questions about the legal process. Here is more information about finding an attorney in your area.