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Defendant - Definition and Everything You Need to Know

George Simons | July 21, 2022

If you're the defendant in a debt lawsuit, you can win.

Summary: If you've been sued for debt, you are the defendant in the case. Here's everything you need to know about being a defendant and how SoloSuit can help you win in court.

In debt collection lingo, a defendant is an individual or entity being sued over a debt. The person or entity filing the debt collection lawsuit is referred to as a plaintiff. In this article, we'll cover everything you need to know about a defendant in a debt collection lawsuit, covering their rights, legal options, and so much more.

Like in any other case, as a defendant in a debt collection lawsuit, you may not be considered liable for the debt in question unless you confirm ownership or act in a way that confirms ownership. In most cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of proof.

In other words, if you've been sued for a debt, you are the defendant, and you don't bear the burden of proof. Let's expand on this.

What is the burden of proof?

The burden of proof is one party's responsibility to prove that their claims against the other party are valid. For example, if John (the plaintiff) claims that Jane (the defendant) owes him $1000, John bears the burden of proof. In such a case, he needs to prove that Jane owes the stated amount.

The law protects the defendant until there's enough reason to believe that they are liable for the debt. As mentioned earlier, the defendant can be found liable for the debt if they officially confirm it, usually in writing, or act in a way that implies that they're responsible for it.

The Summons and Complaint initiate a debt collection lawsuit

When you've been sued for a debt you supposedly owe, you'll should receive the following documents:

Summons

A Summons is an official court document which notifies a defendant that they are being sued. It also requests the defendant to appear in court on a given date to defend themselves. The Summons lists important case information (i.e. court location, parties involved, case number, party contact information, and how many days you have to respond to the Complaint).

Summons example

Complaint

The purpose of the Complaint document is to formally inform the defendant of the specific allegations the plaintiff is making against them. The allegations are usually presented in a numbered list, and they are referred to as “paragraphs.” The Complaint contains important information about the debt (i.e. the amount of money owed, the party owed, and other details about the debt).

Complaint example

Exhibits

Exhibits are listed after the Summons and Complaint, and they serve as documentation that helps prove the allegations in the Complaint. Commons exhibits are credit card agreements, statements, and any other documented proof of the debt.

What happens if you don't respond to a court Summons?

Not responding to a court Summons means you've defied a court order. As a result, the judge might conclude that you violated the law, eventually passing a default judgment against you.

What's a default judgment?

In a debt collection lawsuit, a default judgment is the court's ruling in favor of the plaintiff when the defendant fails to respond.. In other words, if you fail to respond to a court Summons and Complaint, the court interprets this as admitting to all the allegations.

Additionally, when the court passes a default judgment against the defendant, the plaintiff can request the court for permission to pursue other legal means to recover the amount the defendant owes. For instance, the plaintiff can propose wage garnishment as a possible way to recover the debt. A wage garnishment order requires an employer to deduct a portion of an employee's earnings and channel it toward settling a particular debt, such as a credit card debt, child support, etc.

SoloSuit can help you file an Answer in all 50 states.

How to respond to a debt collections Summons and Complaint

As the defendant, you can either accept or deny the claims filed by the plaintiff. As stated earlier, the Complaint document lists the specific allegations made against you by the plaintiff.

If you accept that you owe the debt, you may have a chance to negotiate a repayment plan with the plaintiff. However, this option is never recommended because the plaintiff can lie that you didn't have an agreement and still proceed to recover the debt twice. Secondly, it prevents you from verifying that you owe the debt in question.

Instead, it's best to file your Answer first and deny all the claims. By doing so, the plaintiff must prove that you owe the stated amount. They may present evidence such as the date of acquiring the debt, the original creditor (if the debt was sold to a debt collection agency), and other identifying information.

You can also accept certain parts of the complaint and dispute some. For example, if the debt amount is correct, you can confirm this in the answer document. However, if any other information about the debt is incorrect, you can also deny or state that you don't know anything about it.

Keep in mind that you can file an Answer and reach out to the plaintiff's attorney afterwards to negotiate a debt settlement plan. In fact, reaching a debt settlement in writing is probably the ideal outcome if you actually owe the debt. Many plaintiffs will settle for less than the original amount claimed. SoloSuit can help you learn more about how to settle after you've filed an Answer.

Check out this handy flowchart that outlines the possible routes a debt lawsuit can take:

Debt Collection Lawsuit Flowchart

For more information on responding to a debt lawsuit, check out SoloSuit's 50 state guide.

Examples of affirmative defenses for debt collection lawsuits

In debt collection lawsuits, affirmative defenses are reasons the defendant should win the case and not the plaintiff. Here are examples of affirmative defenses a defendant can use against the plaintiff.

Wrong debt: The defendant uses this defense if it's a case of stolen or mistaken identity.

Incorrect amount: This defense could mean that the defendant owes the debt, but the stated amount is incorrect. The defendant must provide proof, such as receipts of past payments made to the debt account to prove this claim.

Unknown plaintiff: This happens mostly when the original creditor sells the debt to a collection agency. In that case, the plaintiff must prove that they're the new owner of the debt and not the original creditor.

Old debt: Debt collection lawsuits are time-barred by the statute of limitations. Each state has its unique statute, but they mostly range between 2 to 5 years. If the statute of limitations has expired, the plaintiff can't sue you over the same debt.

Already litigated: The defendant uses this defense if there's an existing agreement between them and the plaintiff or the original creditor. For this defense to work, the defendant must provide documentation to prove that the debt has already been litigated.

Bankruptcy: Any debt that was part of a bankruptcy filing cannot be brought forth in a debt collection lawsuit.

Make the right defense the right way with SoloSuit.

The bottom line

Ignoring the Summons and Complaint is one of the worst mistakes you can ever make as a defendant in a debt collection lawsuit. It denies you the chance to challenge the plaintiff and, at the same time, gives them an easy pathway to recovering the debt even if you don't owe them anything in the first place. You can draft an Answer to your debt lawsuit with SoloSuit in minutes.

What is SoloSuit?

SoloSuit makes it easy to respond to a debt collection lawsuit.

How it works: SoloSuit is a step-by-step web-app that asks you all the necessary questions to complete your answer. Upon completion, you can either print the completed forms and mail in the hard copies to the courts or you can pay SoloSuit to file it for you and to have an attorney review the document.

Respond with SoloSuit

"First time getting sued by a debt collector and I was searching all over YouTube and ran across SoloSuit, so I decided to buy their services with their attorney reviewed documentation which cost extra but it was well worth it! SoloSuit sent the documentation to the parties and to the court which saved me time from having to go to court and in a few weeks the case got dismissed!" – James


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