May 14, 2020
Summary: Live in Virginia and need assistance responding to a debt collection lawsuit? Do not fret. This guide will help you through the process
Getting sued by a company because you allegedly owe money can be stressful and overwhelming. You may be struggling financially and are concerned about getting stuck in costly litigation, going to court, testifying before a judge, and so forth. Your feelings of anxiety and stress are understandable, but they should not consume you or stop you from taking action. It is important to be proactive and develop an understanding of what to expect after receiving a summons.
This article is designed to help make the process of responding to a debt lawsuit less confusing and easier. This article provides a step-by-step overview of how to answer a summons for debt collection in Virginia.
Below, you will find helpful topics on how to answer a summons for debt collection, which is referred to as a “Warrant In Debt” in Virginia. You may have taken note of the word “warrant.” This may sound like some sort of a criminal violation; it is not. Please understand that getting served with a Warrant In Debt does not mean you could be subjected to jail time. However, failing to take proper action could seriously penalize your bank account.
This article includes information specific to responding to a Warrant In Debt in Virginia, including specific statutory deadlines and forms applicable to debt lawsuits filed in Virginia courts.
(Helpful resources to protect against debt collection. Find them here.)
Virginia is unique in that you do not need to file a formal “answer” to a Warrant In Debt. In fact, pursuant to Virginia Code § 16.1-79, defendants are not legally required to take any action to respond to a Warrant In Debt in Virginia. Nevertheless, simply ignoring the summons will likely have significant negative repercussions on your financial future.
As mentioned above, Virginia does not require a formal “answer” when you are served with a Warrant In Debt, Instead, the summons will include a hearing date and time. This is your first court date. To dispute the amount allegedly owed in the Warrant In Debt, you must appear before the court on the designated date and at the designated time. If you decide to ignore the Warrant In Debt and do not appear, there is a good chance that the judge will rule against you.
An advantage to Virginia's unique system is that you do not need to shell out money to answer a Warrant In Debt. However, the amount you save in filing fees may wind up being spent on gas and other travel expenses since, in order to dispute a Warrant In Debt, you need to appear before a judge on a specific date and specific time. This date and time typically appear in the upper right hand corner of the Warrant In Debt you receive from the sheriff or process server.
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To initiate a debt collection lawsuit in Virginia, the debt collection company will need to fill out a document titled “Warrant In Debt (civil claim for money)” and they must make arrangements to serve you with this document. Since the Warrant In Debt includes a section indicating you have the option not to appear in court, it has been referred to as an expedited motion for judgment. In effect, if someone ignores the Warrant in Debt and does not show up on the specified hearing date, the Warrant in Debt is essentially a motion for judgment for the debt collector.
The Warrant in Debt also serves as (1) a summons for the defendant to appear before the court on a specific date and time and (2) formal notice that if you fail to appear, a formal judgment could be entered against you for the amount the collector says you owe.
Here are options to consider as a “response” to a debt collection summons in Virginia:
Object to the Venue of the Proceedings: If you have reason to believe the plaintiff (the person or company suing you) should have filed the Warrant In Debt in a different city or county, you have the right to file a written request to have the case moved to a different court.
Appear Pro Se Before the Court: You can appear before the judge on the designated date and time to dispute the amount owed. During the hearing, you can present evidence that you shouldn't need to pay the amount allegedly owed. You also can request a trial and request that the plaintiff produce a Bill of Particulars.
Attempt to Settle the Warrant In Debt: After you are served with the Warrant In Debt, you could attempt to reach a settlement. This could be a worthwhile endeavor since a judgment entered against you means the plaintiff will be able to garnish your wages and collect on the amount owed. If that was not bad enough, the plaintiff can also seek damages to cover filing fees, attorney's fees, and other costs. This is why it could be beneficial to attempt mediation or another form of negotiation to reach an out-of-court settlement.
Ignore the Warrant In Debt: This is the riskiest option since ignoring the warrant means you're basically allowing the court to rule against and make you lose. If you lost, the adverse judgment would probably include any accumulated interest, litigation and collection costs, and attorney's fees. In addition, an adverse judgment means you are effectively waiving your ability to contest the legality of the debt once the judge enters an adverse judgment. You should also be aware of the fact that an adverse judgment will also appear on your credit report.
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A Warrant In Debt is filed pursuant to Virginia Code § 16.1-79. The plaintiff will provide a copy of the warrant to either a sheriff or process server who will be tasked with serving you, the defendant, with the warrant.
If you have been served with a Warrant In Debt, it is quite common to not recognize the name of the debt collector or debt collection company. Why? Because many debts are sold, packaged, and even resold to other debt collectors and debt consolidation agencies. This is why it is important to thoroughly review the warrant to make sure the information contained within the document is accurate. There is a chance that a random third-party debt collector filed a warrant with an incorrect amount owed or other inaccurate information.
While conducting your review, it is important to note that a Warrant In Debt in Virginia should contain the following information about the claim:
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While at the hearing, you should request a trial and a Bill of Particulars from the plaintiff. In most instances, the judge will assign a trial date within three months from the date of the hearing. You need to use that time wisely to develop a good defense that shows why you do not actually owe the money alleged by the plaintiff. The Bill of Particulars can be helpful in building your defense. The Bill of Particulars will include details, provided by the plaintiff, laying out why they believe you owe them money.
The Bill of Particulars is not the only legal document that needs to be filed. When you get a trial date, you need to file a Grounds of Defense. Your Grounds of Defense include the specific reasons why you do not actually owe money to the plaintiff. At the hearing, the judge will provide you with a date to file your Grounds of Defense. It is extremely important to file those Grounds of Defense on time. If you fail to do so, you could lose.
It is worth noting that Virginia's court system has many pitfalls that appear to benefit debt collectors in these types of cases. For example, if you fail to appear at the hearing listed on the Warrant In Debt, an adverse judgment will probably be entered against you. If you appear at the hearing, but admit you owe the plaintiff money, then judgment will be entered against you. If you fail to file your Grounds of Defense on time, you are at risk of having an adverse judgment entered against you. This is why you need to be fully prepared and understand this process from beginning to end.
When drafting your Grounds of Defense, it is important to examine different affirmative defenses that can be asserted to challenge the Warrant In Debt. One of the strongest affirmative defenses is asserting that the plaintiff failed to file their lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations. The statute of limitations defense is most likely viable when the alleged debt has been packaged and re-sold from one debt collector to another.
In Virginia, the statute of limitations for most Warrant In Debt cases is typically six years. The six-year statute of limitations generally applies to most written contracts, oral contracts and open-ended accounts such as credit cards. This means that when a debt is more than six years overdue, then it is quite likely that a creditor can no longer attempt to collect the amount allegedly owed. The statute of limitations for a Warrant In Debt based on a promissory note is even shorter: five years.
Virginia has at least one government-funded organization that provides free legal services to people, in addition to other non-profits and public interest groups focused on assisting people who are being subjected to debt collection lawsuits. These organizations include:
434-455-3080 (for out-of-state numbers)
LawLine Intake Hours: 9am-3:30pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
When it comes to debt collection lawsuits in Virginia, they will be filed in either a general district court or circuit court. There are general district courts and circuit courts in each city and county in Virginia.
The general district court is empowered to hear a variety of cases, including traffic violations and certain criminal cases. General district courts also possess exclusive authority to oversee civil cases with claims of $4,500 or less. General district courts also share authority with circuit courts to hear civil cases involving claims between $4,500 and $25,000. A Warrant In Debt is a civil claim. As a result, if you are being sued for an amount totaling $4,500 or less, the case will likely be filed in a general district court. If the amount allegedly owed is between $4,500 and $25,000, then the case could be filed in a general district court or a circuit court.
However, if the Warrant In Debt is seeking more than $25,000, then the case will be filed in a circuit court. This is because Virginia circuit courts handle all civil cases with claims in excess of $25,000.
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So, in short, here's the review on how to answer a summons for debt collection, which is known as a “Warrant In Debt” in Virginia:
Take these actions:
Best of Luck!
How to Answer a Summons for Debt Collection guides for other states.