What to do if sued
In North Carolina you usually only have 30 days to file a written Answer with the Court after you have been served. In Small Claims Court, no written Answer is required, but the actual hearing is often in a week or less. Failure to file a written Answer often results in the Judgment against you without there even being a hearing date. Don't expect to see a Court date in the paperwork from the Sheriff or certified mail. This confuses most people who just assume the Court will send them a date to appear later. They fail to realize that Court date may never happen because failure to file a written Answer with the Court denying the debt results in a Default Judgment without a hearing.
Also be aware that filing an Answer that states you just need more time to pay is not going to get you more time to pay. The Judge does not have the authority to set up a payment plan. The Judge will simply read your Answer as an admission of the debt and award the Plaintiff their full judgment. You need to at least deny you owe the amount in question and ask for hearing on the amount owed. Also remember that any Answer must be filed at the Courthouse and copy should be mailed to the law firm representing the Plaintiff.
Steps to take after being sued
- Determine if the lawsuit was filed in Small Claims/Magistrate Court, District Court, or Superior Court.
- Identify the State and County you have been sued which should be in the upper left corner.
- If filed in Small Claims Court there should be a hearing date on the paperwork. Make sure you attend Court early ready to defend yourself with all evidence and witnesses. Small Claims hearings are often very similar to TV Judge Judy.
- If you have been sued in either District or Superior Court make sure you file a written Answer or file a written extension of time to Answer within 30 days of service.
- When preparing an Answer be sure your Answer is not simply a “hardship letter” asking for time to pay. The Court will read this Answer as an admission of the debt. The end result will likely be a Judgment on the pleadings for the Plaintiff.
- Make sure your Answer denies the debt and raises any affirmative defenses such as the Statute of Limitations or else those defenses are waived.
- Although a properly filed Answer denying the debt should avoid a default judgment, the usual next step of debt collectors is to send you a large packet of discovery. This discovery often includes Requests for Admissions which many or which must be denied or else certain facts are deemed admitted and the case is essentially over.
- If you receive a Motion for Summary Judgment, be aware it also usually requires a notarized written answer with the Court raising SPECIFIC reasons why you do not owe the money. Any response is often due at least 10 days before any hearing.
- Consider debt negotiation if you have no defense.
- Talk to a lawyer.