Civil law is wide-ranging and covers cases surrounding personal injury, defamation, medical malpractice, worker’s compensation, real estate, product liability, and more. Unlike criminal cases where guilty defendants face jail time, defendants found guilty in civil litigation cases typically end up compensating plaintiffs monetarily. If you find yourself looking down the barrel of a civil case, know that its outcome depends on what you do as well as the merits of the case itself.
Read the Complaint and the Summons
Upon getting sued, you receive a copy of the complaint and summons. Go through the summons to find out which court the plaintiff has filed the case in, the court fee you need to pay to file a written answer, and how much time you file to file your response. The complaint gives you an indication of the reason you are being sued and what the plaintiff expects from you or the court.
Respond in Time
Defendants in civil cases usually have 20 to 30 days to file their initial responses. This time period might be shorter in some instances, which is why you need to go through the summons carefully. If you don’t file your reply in time, it may lead to a default judgment against you.
If you fail to respond in the given timeframe, the plaintiff can file a Request for Default. A default judgment might result in your wages being garnished as well as your bank accounts, automobiles, and property being attached. Since a default judgment shows on your credit report, getting any form of credit in the future can be a challenge.
Cancelling Default Judgments
If you can provide a valid reason for not responding to the summons within the given time period, you may request for a cancellation of the default judgment. In case the judgment stands cancelled, you get to tell your side of the story.
Assess Your Alternatives
Upon receiving summons for a civil case, you get different options from which to choose. These include:
- Negotiating.You may try to resolve the case by negotiating with the plaintiff directly or through your attorney.
- Filing your answer.You file your answer in court to highlight your stand. You get to refute the plaintiff’s claims and submit arguments of your own. Filing an answer prevents a default judgment.
- Requesting for more information.If you feel the complaint against you is vague, you may seek additional information or details. However, not all jurisdictions give you this option.
- Filing a motion to dismiss.You may file a motion of dismiss the lawsuit in case of lack of jurisdiction, failure to state a claim, or not being served summons in the right manner. If your motion is denied, you need to file your answer within 10 days.
- Filing a cross-complaint. Based on your case, you may sue the plaintiff by filing a counterclaim. Depending on whether or not your claim arises out of the same event that brought about the original claim, you may file a compulsory or permissive counterclaim.
The Civil Litigation Process
The Civil Litigation process includes five or six steps. All cases involve initial investigation, filing pleadings, discovery of facts, pre-trial, and trial. Depending on the outcome, one might or might not want to appeal. Since cases that go to court can take months or years to reach their outcomes, litigation attorneys do their best to settle such cases through mediation.
If you have received summons that make you a defendant in a civil case, filing your answer in time is very important. If you’re unsure about what to write or how to go about the process, contact a reliable civil litigation attorney as quickly as possible. Your attorney can guide you through other aspects of your case and represent you in court as well.