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I’ve Been Sued! Now What?

2 September 2010

Few things are quite as upsetting as a knock on the door from a person in uniform.  Even when it’s a lawsuit and not an arrest warrant, it can feel like they’re coming to take you away, like the end of the world as you know it.  It’s certainly not pleasant, but it’s not the end of the world either and quick action can greatly improve your outcome.  Procedures vary by jurisdiction, so what’s relevant here in Kentucky may not be exactly the same for you, but shouldn’t be terribly different.  Getting sued is a good reason to call a lawyer in your area, though, to get advice relevant to your situation.

First of all, let’s look at the papers themselves.  The Summons just lets you know you’ve been sued, that your property rights may be affected.  It says you have the right to respond.  You aren’t required to do so and we haven’t had Debtors’ prisons in this country for more than 200 years, so no one is threatening to take you to jail.  What can happen then?

The papers behind the Summons are the Complaint; they are your creditor’s official complaint to the Court that they’ve waited long enough for payment and want it now.  They are asking for the right to take action like garnishing wages, levying bank accounts and slapping liens on your home to collect.

If you don’t respond, any of those are likely consequences.  A garnishment generally means they can take up to a fourth of your net weekly wages until the debt is paid.  So, what are your options?

  • First, do you owe the debt?  If you really believe they’re wrong (it happens), make a written response and say so.  A lawyer would certainly help, but isn’t required.
  • Second, if you know you owe the debt, but want to make payment arrangements, call the attorney who filed the pleading, the number should be at the back of the Complaint and try to set them up.  It is a myth that you can’t be sued if you’re making small payments and they don’t have to agree, but it’s worth a try.
  • Finally, look at the rest of your financial situation to see if a bankruptcy might not be a better option.  Filing a bankruptcy will stop the lawsuit at any point, stop a garnishment or levy and can frequently get a lien removed.  Call a bankruptcy lawyer in your area to see what relief you can get and how quickly.

Ultimately, a lawsuit may be the wake up call you need to let you know it’s time to take action about the debt you couldn’t handle and weren’t ready to deal with.  Doing nothing is usually the worst option.

Good luck.

Frequently Asked Questions, General Legal Topics