What Happens Next?
Once you serve the Defendant one of several options may
unfold which will affect how you proceed.
- You may settle the suit out of court: Upon being served
with a lawsuit some Defendants will opt to settle out of court. If you
settle you must contact the court and fill out and file a dismissal
form. If you settle after the Defendant has filed an answer to your
complaint both parties must sign the dismissal form. Always collect the
settlement amount before dismissing the claim or get a signed and
witnessed document setting forth the terms of the settlement otherwise
you may have to start the whole process over again.
- Default judgment: The Defendant has a specific number of
days from the date of service, 20 days for example, to respond to your
complaint. The 20 days, or specific number of days in your state,
starts to run the day the Defendant receives the green postcard and
signed for service by the sheriff or process server. If the Defendant
doesn't provide an answer or respond by the 21st day the Defendant is
in default. In some states you need only file a motion with the court
and request a default judgment at a hearing. In other states you must
send a form to the defendant stating that if no response is received
within a specific number of days as specified by the local rules
default judgment will be entered. You will still submit a form to the
court requesting default judgment after the requisite time period. You
should still appear at your hearing, whether or not the Defendant
responds as the Defendant may appear at the hearing an excuse that you
will have to oppose.
- Defendant counterclaims and you settle out of court: The
Defendant files an answer with a counterclaim. This is a suit against
you that involves the same incident or transaction as your lawsuit.
Just as Defendant had a specific number of days to answer your
complaint so you have to answer the Defendant's counterclaims or be in
default. Settlement can occur at any time and you would be required to
file the appropriate papers as set forth above.
- Defendant answers: Defendant answers within the requisite
time period and no settlement is reached. The court will assign a trial
date typically within 10 to 90 days from Defendant's answer depending
on the jurisdiction. You will then prepare your evidence and have your
day in court.
- Defendant answers and files counterclaim: If you respond
within the requisite time period the court will assign a trial date
typically within 10 to 90 days from Defendant's answer depending on the
jurisdiction. You will then prepare your evidence and have your day in
You can always settle your case right up to the trial
date and in some cases even afterwards. You may also want to explore
mediation as an alternative.
You have filed your complaint, the Defendant has
answered and you have a trial date set. Now it is time to start
organizing your evidence and locating your witnesses to prepare for
trial. Check out Part 3 of our series, Making The Most Of Your Day In Court.
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