Responding to a Credit Card Lawsuit
When a lawsuit is filed in the Court of Common Pleas you as the defendant have 20 days to get a written response filed with the court. The initial written response to the lawsuit is crucial, so please heed the following advice. There are generally two choices when responding: (1) You can file an Answer and either admit or deny the allegations. If you file an Answer, you must also raise any affirmative defenses (you paid the debt, the collector is not within the statute of limitations, etc…). (2) You can file Preliminary Objections. Preliminary Objections are a response to the lawsuit that advises the Court that you believe that the lawsuit is legally defective. In other words, you are advising that the collector has not placed enough information for you to respond, or there isn’t enough information to meet the minimum requirements of a meritorious lawsuit.
Most online debtor forums that I have seen recommend that you file an Answer. These forums are often frequented by those who are attempting to handle a lawsuit by themselves as non-attorneys. In Pennsylvania, filing an Answer is almost always the wrong response on a credit card lawsuit.
As stated above, Preliminary Objections are the proper response to a credit card lawsuit. These Objections MUST be raised at the initial written response or else they are waived. (to be clear, “waived” means “forever gone”). We’ve seen countless cases where a defendant files his/her own Answer because they read online that that was proper, only to call us later when they realize that they are in over their heads. Once you waive something, its gone. Back to the Preliminary Objections. These objections are a statement to the court that essentially says “this is defective”….”there’s not enough information here”. This will require that a written brief is submitted along with the objections. (A brief is a memorandum that lays out your legal argument including relevant case law). This will also require an oral argument in front of the sitting motions judge. When the objections are done correctly, the judge should rule in your favor order the creditor to produce more evidence/documentation. If the creditor cannot produce more, the case is over. If they do produce more, the claim needs to be re-evaluated to see if they are in compliance with the law or not. This is a procedure that is best left to a consumer attorney.
For our office, the biggest reason for the Preliminary Objections is that it sets forth the criteria which the creditor must meet in order to move forward with the claim. If they cannot meet that criteria, then the case ends with a victory for the defendant without ever having to go to trial. We enjoy trials, and we are very good at them, but even the best attorney can lose a trial from time to time. On the other hand, if the claim never makes it to trial, then the defendant wins every time.
When is an Answer the Correct Response?
There are times when it is appropriate to file an Answer in a credit card lawsuit. In Allegheny County specifically, there are times when it is the only response that is allowed. If the creditor files a small lawsuit (under $3,000) and uses the proper form, there is a local rule that requires that an Answer be filed. Another time where it might be appropriate to file an Answer on a Credit Card Lawsuit is where the lawsuit is for a relatively small amount.
In any event, before responding to a credit card lawsuit in Pennsylvania, please contact our office for a free, no obligation consultation. We’ll review your matter, advise you of the good and the bad, and represent you if you wish to retain us. If you don’t retain us, that’s fine, we’ll at least know that you were given the proper advice and are able to make an informed decision as to how to proceed with defending your lawsuit. 412-823-8003.