1. Decide what to do if you're sued
If you're being sued, your first step is to decide what to do. Generally, you'll either respond and defend yourself in court or do nothing. If you do nothing, the judge can decide the case without your input. You could also reach out to whoever is suing you and try to reach an agreement.
You typically have only 30 days from when you were given the Summons and Complaint to respond in court.
Respond and defend yourself
Most common way to respond is to file an Answer
In an Answer, you say what you think is not true in the Complaint (make a denial) and you say what your defenses are or might be (new matters you are bringing up). If you file an Answer, the other side must prove their case and you can defend your case in court. Even if you file an Answer, you can still try to reach an agreement with the other side.
There can be downsides to filing an Answer. If the other side hired a lawyer depending on what the case is about, they may be able to ask for money to pay for the lawyer if they win. The longer the case goes on, the more the fees go up.
Find out more about what happens in a case, so you know what you'll be expected to do. If you miss one of these steps you can lose.
There are other ways you can respond
File a motion
If something is legally wrong with what the Plaintiff filed or how they had the papers delivered (served), you can argue that the case should be canceled in whole or part. You will need to write out your legal argument, supported by the law and evidence, and ask the judge to make a decision. This is called filing a motion. You will need to have this properly delivered (served) to the plaintiff.
Sue someone else (cross-complaint)
In addition to filing and Answer, you can sue the Plaintiff or another Defendant if you think they're at fault or owe you money. You can also bring someone not part of the lawsuit into it if you think they are responsible. This is called a Cross-Complaint. It means you're suing someone else for a related reason in the same case.
If you don't sue the person or business back or bring in the other person to the case you can lose your chance to sue them later.
You can also choose not to respond to the case. If you do not respond by the deadline, the Plaintiff can ask the judge to make a decision without you. This is called a default or default judgment.
The judgment will say what the judge decided and if you owe the plaintiff any money. The plaintiff can use the judgment to try to collect the money from you if you do not pay it.
Even if you don't respond and there's a default, you can still try to reach an agreement with the Plaintiff.
Get legal help right away if you have a default but didn't want one.
You may be able to cancel (set aside) the default judgment if you have a really good reason for not responding. For example, you didn't get the papers that started the lawsuit (you weren't served) or you couldn't respond for a really good reason, like you were in the hospital or serving in the military.
A set aside does not mean you win the case. It means the case starts over from the beginning and you can defend yourself in court. There are strict deadlines to get a default. Talk to a lawyer to find out if it's a good option for you.
Bankruptcy is a legal process to help people who owe money, or debtors, get relief from debts they cannot pay and, at the same time, help people who are owed money, or creditors, get paid from assets property the debtor has. It is handled in federal, not state court.
Whether you can or should declare bankruptcy is a tough decision. Find out more about bankruptcy and where to get help.
If you file for bankruptcy while your case is open, the debt case is automatically paused (stayed). This means it can’t move along until the bankruptcy is done, or the court decides that the debt case should start up again. You use Notice of Stay of Proceedings (form CM-180) to ask to stay the case.
Reach an agreement and have the case dismissed
At any point, even if you file a response, you can try to reach an agreement with the other side. If you and the other side agree, you can extend your deadline to respond to the lawsuit by 15 days. California Rule of Court 3.110(d). This gives you more time to work out an agreement.
As part of your agreement, you can agree to have the case canceled (dismissed) once you've done whatever you agreed to do. If there is a settlement the Plaintiff needs to notify the court about it.
Explore these options in more detail and get instructions for responding, understand what happens in a default, or see how to get your case dismissed.
File an Answer
Get step-by-step instructions for how respond to the lawsuit and begin your defense.
Make an agreement and ask for a dismissal
If you and the Plaintiff reach an agreement, you can have the case dismissed.
Get a default and owe money
If the plaintiff gets a default judgment that says you owe money, they can take steps to collect the money from you.