People receiving a court summons are usually defendants in a lawsuit. A summons is the notice of a lawsuit and an attached document – called a complaint -- is the lawsuit itself. The summons specifies a date the defendant must appear in court, or it outlines procedures for responding to the lawsuit in writing. Credit card companies and debt collectors frequently file lawsuits to collect unpaid debt. Responding with a hardship letter is not an appropriate strategy for responding to a summons because the hardship letter does not extend the debtor's legal rights.
An inability to pay a debt because of a financial hardship is not a suitable defense in a civil lawsuit. Writing a hardship letter to the judge explaining that you don’t have the money to pay a debt surely will result in a victory for the party filing suit. Illinois Legal Aid reports that credit card companies and debt collectors nearly always win debt lawsuits because there are so few suitable defenses for a legitimate debt.
Answering the Summons
Sending a hardship letter as a response to a court summons allows the judge in the case to make an easy decision – in favor of the party filing suit. Instead, the defendant should answer the lawsuit by not admitting to the allegations in the lawsuit. This forces the party filing suit to prove the case in court by presenting evidence to the judge.
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Laws regarding civil summonses vary by the state. In some states, the summons requires the defendant to appear in court on a certain date. In other states, the defendant must send a written response to the lawsuit. The lawsuit states a series of allegations, with the defendant allowed to respond. If a written response is permissible, the defendant can respond to the summons by reacting to each numbered allegation by stating “I deny this is true.” That is the same as pleading not guilty in a criminal case.
Answering the summons by the deadline included in the court notice is critical. Failure to respond by the deadline results in a default judgment – a complete victory for the party filing suit. A default judgment can lead to bank or wage garnishment. People who know the allegations in a lawsuit are true should respond to the summons to protect their rights while also attempting to settle the suit out of court. It is possible to settle many debt lawsuits for less than the full balance sought by the party filing the suit.