Four Things To Do if You've Been Sued

If you've been sued in Iowa, Wisconsin, or Illinois, chances are the sheriff or a private process server came to your house or your job and handed you some papers.  What to do next? Look at the papers for the following information:

1. Who is suing you? Is it a company you know you owe money to? Did they buy a debt you owed to another company? The information about who is suing you (called "the plaintiff") should be in the caption, one of the first things you see.  If you don't recognize the plaintiff's name, read on.  Sometimes debt buyers will attach paperwork explaining who they have bought this debt from.

2.  How much are they suing you for? Does the amount sound correct to you?

3.  Is there information about the debt attached? Sometimes creditors will attach credit card statements or affidavits explaining how much you owe. Do these seem correct?

4. Look for your "due date." In Iowa, this is usually 20 days from the day you were served papers.  The first page will usually tell you clearly when you need to take action by filing a response.  Take this date seriously and write it on your calendar!  If you do nothing, the court may assume you owe the money and issue a judgment, even if you had a good defense.  

After you've read the papers, you have to make the choice of whether to get help or handle this on your own.  A lawyer can give you advice about whether you have any good defenses to this lawsuit, such as if too much time has passed.  In Iowa, for example, a creditor has only 5 years to sue you on a credit card debt unless they have a written contract you signed.  A lawyer can also tell you what might happen if the creditor gets a judgment.

If you ask for help from a lawyer, ask early! Your lawyer is also bound by that time limit, and you want to give him or her as much time as possible to respond.  

If you go it alone, you'll have to file an answer for yourself.  In Iowa, that is usually done online; Wisconsin and Illinois still use paper.  Remember that if you represent yourself, the court system offers some guides, but can't give you legal advice.