Here are some reasons that people put off answering the suit, and what can happen as a result:
- "This suit is unjustified, unfair, or inaccurate." Maybe so, but if you don't bother to answer it, you may lose a suit that you could have won if only you had chosen to participate. Frustrating but true.
- "I have time to answer, I'll get around to it". Are you sure? How many days does the citation say that you have? Are you sure you are calculating the days correctly? What about a holiday, or a weekend? What about a holiday that not everyone celebrates? Read the citation thoroughly, it will tell you how long you have to answer, then make sure you know exactly how to calculate the answer time. In many cases you will have until 10:00 A.M of the Monday that comes after 20 days have passed. Justice Court gives you less time to answer than most cases in district or county court. Some probate actions may allow you only 10 days to answer. In a business case, guardianship or family law case where someone is claiming "irreparable harm" or an issue with "safety to health and welfare of children", there may be a need for an immediate, emergency hearing. Long story short- depending on the type of case, the type of court, the way that Sundays and holidays fall, and the urgency of the issue, you may have 3 -27 days to act. Make sure you know.
- "I'll let an attorney handle it. I have an appointment in a couple weeks." Do not wait until the last minute to see a lawyer. Your attorney may need to do research before preparing your answer. You may have a counterclaim against the person suing you and your attorney may need time to get it ready. Your lawyer's office may have time to draft your answer today, but if you wait another week or two there could be other emergencies that came in ahead of yours. Your attorney needs time to prepare the filing and may need to have you sign an affidavit or other documents prior to filing your answer. You may need to meet with the lawyer more than once prior to the answer being filed. Waiting until the last minute creates an emergency situation that can cost you more in legal fees.
- "We already dealt with this issue, this suit must be a mistake." Occasionally, lawsuits get filed accidentally but not often. So if you are getting sued now by a creditor that you thought you settled with, a former business partner that you thought you split with, or a former spouse that you thought you completed mediation with, you need to take notice. It could be that this suit should not have been filed, but you still need to get it dismissed. The legal issue may be "close", but not identical. It is better to get an erroneous or frivolous suit dismissed early on than it is to go back and try to undo a judgment against you.
- "They didn't serve me properly". Texas Rules of Civil procedure allow different types of service. Don't assume that it won't count just because a uniformed constable didn't come to your door and shout "you've been served!" The subject of whether someone has been properly served or not leads to some heated courtroom debate between lawyers. It can be a technical legal issue, so always get a lawyer's opinion on this. BUT be aware that if you really have not been properly served, it may be best NOT to answer the lawsuit (depending on the facts of your case). Again, get legal advice a.s.a.p.
This advice relates to Texas courts. Similar advice can be applied to Federal court, administrative court, or a complaint against you with an administrative agency. The time periods and methods of service may vary, but the main rules are these 1) read everything thoroughly 2) understand when you are supposed to answer 3) get legal advice 4) do not wait!