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Notes From the Mulligan Bench*

(*An appellate blog and other musings)

Click on a blog title below to access the post. 

Legend: ALR = Appellate Law Related; GLR = General Law Related; NLR = Not Law Related.

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Can Ignoring a Lawsuit Make it Go Away? (GLR)

Photo by John Snape - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo by John Snape - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Picture a sunny afternoon in May.  You walk to your mailbox to retrieve the small bundle of letters and circulars.  ‘Probably all junk mail and bills,’ you think as you begin leafing through the stack.  And then you happen upon it.  A notice from your local court.  “Oh no,” you groan, “this must be related to that certified letter I’ve been refusing to accept for weeks!”   Yep, you’ve just been sued.  

If you ignore the lawsuit, will the person or company who sued you eventually just give up?  In a word …

Also, nein, niet, non, nahi, or nee.

Also, nein, niet, non, nahi, or nee.

Ignoring a legal complaint filed against you is the worst thing you can do.  In fact, it does the other party a favor.  If you do not appear in court to address the claims, the other party can be awarded what is called a default judgment.  In other words, as provided by Rule 55 of the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, if you fail to act, the party who sued you wins without having to do anything.

And that is how we are. By strength of will we cut off our inner intuitive knowledge from admitted consciousness. This causes a state of dread, or apprehension, which makes the blow ten times worse when it does fall.
— D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly's Lover

Like in D.H. Lawrence’s quote, ignoring the reality of a lawsuit against you only makes things worse.  After being awarded a default judgment, the person or company suing you will then pursue legal action to enforce the judgment.  Put another way, they keep on coming at you.

Here’s a common example involving debt ...  A credit card balance you were unable to pay off a year ago is charged off by the creditor and sold to a debt collection company.  The debt collection company sues you in court to recover the overdue balance.  These collection companies often purchase hundreds or even thousands of bad debts at a time for pennies on the dollar and then turn around and file hundreds or thousands of lawsuits against the respective debtors.  They hope and pray you do nothing after receiving notice of the lawsuit against you.

Not knowing what to do, you ignore the lawsuit and skip the court date provided in the notice.  If the court date arrives and XYZ Collection Company is the only party standing in front of the judge, they win!  Then they continue the saga by seeking to recover their monetary award from your assets or wages.  Bad news.

So what are your options?  One, you can represent yourself.  It may be daunting, but showing up and disputing the claims against you in court is infinitely better than doing nothing.  You will have to file an answer with the court clerk’s office within the applicable deadline to avoid a default judgment.  Simply writing a letter to the party suing you and/or showing up in court is not enough to avoid default.  Your answer must be filed on the record with the court itself and then you must attend the court proceeding.  

It's what we do.

It's what we do.

Your other option is hiring an attorney.  An attorney can best help you dispute the claims against you and perhaps even file counterclaims.  An attorney can advise you whether the party suing you is full of hot air or whether they have a valid legal claim against you.  In addition, while plaintiffs (especially business entities) often ignore settlement offers from laypeople, they may be more likely to bargain when contacted by an attorney.

Lawsuits are not fun.  If you find yourself as a defendant in a lawsuit, be sure to take action before the deadline expires!  

Thanks for reading.

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