Have you received notice that a debt collector intends to sue you over an unpaid credit card or medical bill? If so, you may be wondering what your next step is. How can you defend yourself? Should you even present a defense if you can’t afford to pay or the debt is not even yours?
The answer to the latter question is a definite yes. Otherwise, if you don’t defend yourself against the lawsuit, you risk a default judgement that can cost you a lot, even if you believe you do not legitimately owe the money. As to the question of how you can defend the action, below are some suggestions, some of which may help you avoid court entirely:
Respond to the Summons and Complaint Promptly
Did you know that the majority of consumers sued by debt collectors simply ignore the papers served upon them?
This usually happens for one of three reasons:
- They believe they can’t afford an attorney to defend the action.
- They can’t afford to pay or they don’t believe they owe the money (e.g. identity theft) so they don’t bother responding.
- They are overwhelmed by stress and hope the situation will sort itself out naturally.
In Oklahoma, if you do not file an answer to the complaint within 20 days and the debt collector proceeds with the lawsuit, they could win a default judgement against you without having to prove their case to a judge or jury. Don’t make it so easy for them.
Make the Debt Collector Prove Their Claim
Because so many people fail to file an answer to collection lawsuits, debt collectors often file lawsuits without having all the information necessary to prove their cases. For example, if a debt buyer claims to own a debt, do they have proof that it was assigned to them? Can they prove that you in fact owe the exact amount of money they are seeking?
When you respond to the lawsuit, you are allowed to request the documents that prove the collector’s claim.
With the help of an experienced attorney, you may be able to find information that don’t support the collector’s claim.
Show a Willingness to Go to Trial
When defending yourself against the claim, make it clear that you are willing to litigate. Lawsuits are expensive, and in most instances debt collectors and even original creditors will hesitate at the cost of traveling to a remote jurisdiction to present evidence against you. These plaintiff-collectors have even been known to dismiss their cases just before proceedings are scheduled to begin.
Hire an Attorney
Debtors being sued by a collection agency often hesitate to contact an attorney, usually because they believe they can’t afford it. Never assume anything; a call to a consumer protection or bankruptcy attorney for advice could result in surprisingly affordable legal representation, and once the debt collector learns that you are represented by an attorney, they may be more open to settling the claim instead of fighting it out in court.
Depending on the size of the debt and your financial situation, filing for bankruptcy may also be an option. If you do so, you will be protected from further collection efforts by the automatic stay that comes into effect upon filing. A meeting with a bankruptcy attorney will give you a better idea of whether or not a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 filing can help you deal with your debt.
If you have received notice of an upcoming debt collection lawsuit, contact Attorney David Sisson for a no-obligation consultation today. Mr. Sisson will review your situation and recommend the best course of action for dealing with the claim.