There are different kinds of summonses, and the consequences for failing to respond are different, but they are never good. If a person receives a personal injury summons along with a complaint that names the person as a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit, ignoring the summons does not make it go away.
A person needs to file an answer to the complaint in order to preserve their right to defend against the lawsuit and protect other rights they may have.
If a person is named as a defendant in a lawsuit and fails to file an answer, the person who filed the lawsuit, the “plaintiff” in legal terminology, can seek what is called a “default judgment.” This means they may win their case because of the failure to file an answer to the complaint.
So, if a person has been served with a summons and complaint and does not know what to do, they need to consult an attorney to find out how to proceed.
What Happens if a Court Summons Is Ignored?
When a person is served with a summons and complaint, a person should understand that someone has sued them. If the case is a personal injury case, the person probably seeks an award of money damages. The amount they seek is stated in the complaint.
A person should file an answer that states their defenses and states a counterclaim if they should have one. By not answering the summons and complaint, a person risks losing their opportunity to contest the claims of the plaintiff and also to make their own claims against the plaintiff.
If a person does not answer the complaint and ignores it instead, the plaintiff can then seek a default judgment in court. The plaintiff must prove that the complaint was served on the defendant and then offer proof of the amount of money that they seek in damages.
If the plaintiff does this successfully, the court issues a default judgment for the plaintiff. The plaintiff is then entitled to seek payment of the judgment from the defendant. For example, they might garnish the defendant’s wages or seize one of their bank accounts.
There may be a case in which a person would decide to take this risk, but that would be a very rare case. A better response is for a person to read the complaint to find out who has sued them. They also want to know in which court they have been sued and what the plaintiff claims is the basis of the lawsuit. Another important fact to look for is the amount of money the person claims in damages.
A person might want to gather together any documents or other evidence they might have that relates to the facts stated in the complaint. Then, a person would want to discuss the situation with a knowledgeable lawyer.
The lawyer can help the person determine if you have a valid claim against the plaintiff who has sued them. They can help the person determine whether they might have insurance that would cover the claim if they should determine that the person is liable to pay it.
There are other legal maneuvers that a lawyer might advise, such as making a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. Or, a person’s lawyer might advise that the person wants to admit certain facts and contest others so as to narrow the issues in the case. There are a multitude of possible moves, and an experienced lawyer would be able to identify these moves and advise a person as to the way forward.
If you need the advice and representation of a lawyer, this is the time to find someone who can advise you.
How Long Does a Defendant Have to Answer a Complaint?
The length of time a defendant has to answer a civil complaint depends on the court in which the complaint is filed and the state if it is filed in state court. Generally speaking, a defendant has either 20 days or 30 days to answer a complaint.
If a person is served with a summons and complaint in any kind of civil case, their best bet is to talk to a lawyer as soon as they can so that important deadlines are not missed.
Can a Default Judgment Be Set Aside?
Court rules determine the issue of when a court would set aside a default judgment and allow a person to file an answer. A court might be persuaded to set aside a default judgment for one of several reasons:
- Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect on the part of the person who failed to answer the complaint within the period allowed;
- Some kind of fraud or other misconduct perpetrated by the party who filed the complaint;
- The party who failed to answer the complaint has discovered new evidence;
- The judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged;
- Any other reason that justifies relief from the default judgment.
If a failure to appear and file an answer can be justified and excused as a result of a valid mistake or excusable neglect that could not have been prevented, the court may grant relief.
However, mistakes resulting from deliberate decisions or simple ignorance or misunderstanding of the law and its consequences are generally not justifications for relief in most courts.
In any event, if a person is granted relief from default, they must be prepared to file an answer to the complaint and proceed to defend the case.
How Do I Request Relief From a Default Judgment or Order?
Obtaining relief from a default judgment requires filing a motion requesting that relief be granted and providing justification for whatever action led to the default judgment. A person would have to submit evidence to justify asking for relief from their default per the rules of the court.
For example, a person might claim that, in fact, the plaintiff who filed the complaint never really served the complaint and the summons on them. They might allege that any proof of service presented to the court was fraudulent, and the person never received it.
They might claim that they heard about the complaint entirely by accident. For example, when the plaintiff attempted to collect their judgment by garnishing their wages or seizing a bank account.
If the person is successful in presenting sufficient evidence to persuade the judge of the truth of their claim, the default judgment would be vacated. The person would then be able to file an answer and contest the case.
Do I Need an Attorney to Request Relief From a Default Judgment?
If you were sued and failed to file an answer, you want to consult a personal injury attorney. LegalMatch.com can connect you to a lawyer who can review the facts and advise you on the best way to proceed.
Having a lawyer will definitely improve the chances that you can get the default judgment set aside so you can assert your rights.