Let’s say you are handed a lawsuit and summons by a process server. It’s a BS case filed by your crazy neighbor for something you clearly didn’t do. You can ignore the suit, right?

Wrong. You most certainly cannot ignore it.

Once you’ve been served with a lawsuit, the law is very clear: You have 21 days after the date of service to either file an answer to the suit or a motion to dismiss it. If you fail to do so, the person suing you can ask the judge for a default judgment against you for everything they asked for in their suit. A judge will almost always grant default judgment against the party who did not respond within 21 days. You don’t get to contest it. You lost the case from the get-go by not responding.

People who are sued sometimes think they don’t need to respond to a lawsuit because they can just explain to the judge how meritless the case against them is. They think a default judgment is like a traffic ticket where they can tell the judge what happened and the judge will see how right they are and dismiss the suit. Judges can’t really do this when someone has not responded to a suit. Instead, judges almost automatically grant default judgments against people who do not respond to the lawsuit. (There are some limited exceptions which are very rare.)

The summons you were served with could not be more clear – it specifically tells you that if you fail to respond within 21 days that default judgment can be entered against. Believe what it says.

Let’s say you can’t find an attorney to take your case, which is common in Ravalli County where there are not enough attorneys. You have two solutions. First, you can contact the person who sued you and ask for more time to respond. Second, you can file an answer yourself. A basic answer to stave off a default judgment is easier than you’d think. There are forms on the Montana courts website for an answer. Don’t be afraid to file your own answer – it’s far better than losing your case before it really even starts.

(This information is of a general nature; exceptions to these general statements might exist. This information is for general educational purposes only; no attorney-client relationship with Overstreet Law Group, LLC is formed unless a person enters into a written representation agreement with the firm.)