If you receive a court summons, your first reaction might be to panic. Thinking you’re being sued can cause stress and anxiety, but a court summons doesn’t necessarily mean someone is filing a lawsuit against you.
You may receive a court summons if you are being sued, called for jury duty, or charged with a minor criminal offense. In any of these cases, knowing how to respond to the summons is important to avoid potential legal issues and ensure you achieve the best possible outcome.
Here’s what you need to know about what a court summons might mean and what to do if you receive one.
Does a Court Summons Mean I Am Being Sued?
A court summons is a document issued by the court that requires someone to take action. While some summons may mean you are being sued, this isn’t always the case. A court summons might indicate that you are being called to court as a witness or to appear for jury duty.
The purpose of a summons is to inform you of your legal obligation to appear in court. It provides details about what will happen if you don’t comply. It may also contain information such as who is filing the lawsuit against you, your response options, and what legal action is being requested.
If a person files a personal injury lawsuit or another type of civil lawsuit against you, you’ll receive a court summons to notify you of the lawsuit. This summons usually contains information about the reasons for the lawsuit, what damages are being requested, and instructions on how to respond.
The summons will name the plaintiff (the person suing you), list the court’s address, and state how much time you have to respond.
In a civil lawsuit, the summons is separate from the complaint. The complaint is a legal document that explains why the plaintiff is filing a lawsuit against you.
You might also receive a court summons to answer a minor criminal charge. Often, the summons will offer a chance to settle your case outside of court by paying the fines. If you ignore the summons and don’t pay the fines, you could face additional legal action, including arrest.
Criminal charges can be more serious and may involve jail time or other penalties if you are found guilty. In these cases, it is important to contact a lawyer who can help you understand your rights, the charges against you, and what possible defenses might be available.
The summons should include the following:
The name and address of the court.
The name of the prosecutor.
Information about how many days or weeks you have to respond.
Instructions on how to answer the complaint.
Court summons for witnesses
If you are a personal injury witness, you may receive a court summons notifying you that you must appear in court to provide testimony.
This means you are not being sued or charged with a minor criminal offense. Instead, you are expected to provide information to the court regarding the case. Your testimony may be used to aid either the plaintiff or the defense. Even if you believe you don’t have anything to do with the case, you will still need to respond to the summons.
Another reason you might receive a court summons is to call you for jury duty. In these cases, the summons will tell you where to go and the date and time you need to be present for jury service. This doesn’t mean you will actually have to go to trial as part of the jury.
You should take jury service seriously and follow all directions given by the court. Failure to appear in response to a jury summons may result in sanctions, such as fines or even jail time. If you are selected, you will be provided with more detailed instructions on what is expected of jurors during the trial.
I’m a Defendant in a Personal Injury Lawsuit
If you are a personal injury defendant, knowing what steps to take after you receive your summons is important. Failing to answer your summons or appear in court can result in serious penalties. Your court summons will include several necessary details to help you plan your next steps, including how to respond, how long you have to respond, where the court is, and who the plaintiff is.
You should act promptly to ensure you answer the summons in the required timeframe while having enough time to contact your insurance company and find suitable representation.
How long do I have to file an answer to my summons?
When it comes to filing an answer to a court summons, there is no specific timeframe that applies to all cases. Though, in most cases, you’ll have at least 15 days to respond.
Your summons will state how long you have to file an answer and the methods you can use. In personal injury cases, it’s typically a good idea to contact your insurance company before filing an answer. You should send your insurance provider a copy of your summons so that they can advise you and help you find legal representation.
What if I don’t have insurance?
If you’re the defendant in a personal injury lawsuit and don’t have insurance, you’ll need to hire an attorney or represent yourself in court. However, representing yourself is not recommended, as a professional attorney has the knowledge and expertise to create a solid defense.
Since you don’t have insurance, you’ll also be responsible for paying damages out of your own pocket. Depending on your case's specific circumstances, this can be tens of thousands of dollars.
Can my insurance company respond to my court summons for me?
Your insurance company will not respond to your court summons on your behalf. However, you still need to contact your insurance provider, as most car insurance policies require your insurance company to hire a lawyer on your behalf and pay attorney fees up to your coverage limit.
Do I need a lawyer to file an answer to my court summons?
An attorney can help you file an answer to a court summons, though it is not required.
If you plan to answer the summons on your own, review the document carefully to understand the allegations against you. If you have any documents that disprove these allegations, collect them and include them with your answer.
You can sometimes file a counterclaim if you feel the plaintiff is responsible for any of your damages after an accident.
When drafting your answer, you’ll need to answer each allegation listed in the summons. You’ll have the opportunity to state your defense, list any counterclaims, and request the dismissal of the lawsuit. To file your answer, you’ll need to take it to the clerk’s office at the court where the lawsuit was filed and pay any applicable filing fees.
Can I represent myself in a personal injury lawsuit?
Though this is not recommended, you can represent yourself in a personal injury lawsuit.
If you have insurance, your insurance provider will likely hire an attorney and pay for their fees up to your coverage limit. If you decide to represent yourself, it would be beneficial to understand personal injury law and the court process. You should also thoroughly research your case and be prepared for any questions. Additionally, ensure you have all relevant documents, such as medical records, insurance policy information, or police reports.
What can they take if I lose my personal injury lawsuit?
If the plaintiff wins the lawsuit, the court will determine their award based on the total damages they sustained, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
If you are held liable, you will be required to pay this award, and if you don’t have the cash to pay it outright, the injured party may be able to seize assets like bank accounts, real estate, vehicles, and jewelry. Certain assets, like your home and retirement assets, are protected.
What happens if I can’t pay my personal injury settlement?
If you can’t pay the personal injury settlement, the court may order you to turn over a portion of your wages to the plaintiff until you have paid the total award. Future assets, like tax returns, stock dividends, and future income, can also be seized to help pay for the plaintiff’s award.
What Happens If I Don’t Show Up to Court?
Whether it’s for a personal injury lawsuit, jury duty, or a criminal offense, you need to show up to court if you receive a summons.
In personal injury cases, failure to file an answer or appear in court will likely result in a default judgment being granted against you. This means the plaintiff will win by default, and you will have to pay the settlement.
If you fail to appear for jury duty, you may be held in contempt of court, which can result in fines or even jail time. However, specific penalties vary depending on your state.
Failure to appear in court for minor criminal offenses can result in a warrant being issued for your arrest, as well as additional fines and jail time. You will likely be arrested and have to remain in jail until your court date.
Will My Insurance Cover My Court and Legal Fees?
If you are the defendant in a personal injury case, your insurance provider will typically cover attorney fees up to your coverage limit. Most insurance policies contractually obligate your insurance company to cover legal expenses as part of your liability coverage. This means that your insurance company will provide representation in court and pay any necessary damages or fines.
Legal Resources for Defendants in Personal Injury Lawsuits
There are plenty of resources available online that help defendants in personal injury lawsuits better understand personal injury law and what to expect after receiving a court summons. Here are a few helpful resources to visit if you receive a court summons for a personal injury lawsuit.
Legal Services Corporation (LSC)
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is a nonprofit that Congress established to help low-income Americans get financial support for legal aid.
Defendants in civil cases, like personal injury lawsuits, can use the website to find an LSC-funded legal aid organization to help them with civil matters.
The American Bar Association (ABA)
The American Bar Association (ABA) offers resources and information for people that need help with legal matters.
For personal injury cases, the ABA provides a wealth of information regarding personal injury law, personal injury claims, and what to expect from a personal injury case.
Cornell Law School
Cornell Law School’s website hosts Wex, a free legal dictionary that aims to help people gain a deeper understanding of important legal topics.
Individuals can search the dictionary using keywords and browse legal topics, and legal experts constantly edit the dictionary to keep it up to date.
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