A Creditor Has Filed a Lawsuit Against Me

If a borrower fails to make payments and defaults on a contractual agreement, a creditor will assess fees and report the delinquency to the credit bureaus. If the creditor is unable to collect its funds, they can turn the account over to collections, sell the debt to a debt buyer, or go to court to reclaim any money owed. Some examples include: credit card, medical debt, gym membership, utilities, and cell phone agreements.

Below is information that may be helpful if a creditor files a lawsuit against you, but it is not a substitute for legal advice. There are other rules and laws that may apply to your situation, but these are common rules and laws that apply in civil cases. 

  • A process server might serve papers from the court on you or someone living at the home, indicating a civil lawsuit has been filed against you because you stopped paying or owe money on an account. The papers might also be left on the door and mailed to you if the judge authorized it. You may be served a small claims lawsuit by certified mail. This is called service of process.
  • The complaint will explain how much the creditor/plaintiff thinks you owe and might include the accounting ledger showing how that amount was calculated. The complaint will say that an answer must be filed within 20 days.
  • Depending on how much is owed, the case can be filed in small claims court, justice court, or superior court. In small claims court, the plaintiff cannot be represented by an attorney and the amount owed must be under $3,500. Small claims have different rules and move through the court process much quicker than civil cases in justice or superior court. Go to www.azcourts.gov/smallclaims for more information about small claims. You can also watch the video and go to the What Happens in Small Claims Court webpage for more information. Justice and superior court's rules of procedure are different, but still similar. 
  • The parties to the lawsuit are the plaintiff (creditor) and the defendant. 
  • If you do not recognize the name of the company that is suing you, it might be the original creditor who lent you the money sold the loan to a debt buyer. The debt buyer has the same rights as the original creditor. 
  • It is important you read all of the documents and decide if you agree or disagree with the allegations or if you need more information. Everyone has the right to take their case to trial if they want to.
  • If you agree you owe these amounts, you might consider trying to resolve the case without a trial by asking to make an agreement with the plaintiff/creditor before the time to file the answer has expired, or resolving it at the hearing set by the court.
  • If you do not agree that you owe this creditor money or if you disagree with the amount, you will need to explain why in the answer that you file. 

  • WARNING: The losing party may be ordered to pay reasonable attorney's fees to the winning party.
  • The defendant has 20 calendar days from service of process to file an answer (AOC LJCV4F) to the lawsuit. An answer is the written response you file with the court admitting or denying the creditor's claims and the reasons why. The answer should respond to each element of the complaint. For detailed steps on how to complete the answer, watch the video or go to How to File an Answer page. 
  • All documents filed with the court must also be provided to the other party and their attorney.
  • You will be required to pay a filing fee when filing an answer. If you cannot afford the filing fee, you can ask the clerk for a fee waiver/deferral application.

  • WARNING: If you fail to file a written answer, you may not get your day in court and the judge may enter a default judgment against you. 
  • After the answer is filed, the parties need to provide a written disclosure statement to the other party. A disclosure statement is a document that explains your position, lists your witnesses and your evidence.
  • If your case is in justice court, you must file the disclosure statement within 40 days after you file the answer. (AOC LJCV15F
  • If your case is in superior court, you must file the disclosure statement within 30 days after you file the answer. 

  • WARNING: Not providing a disclosure statement may have serious consequences, including not being allowed to present your evidence at trial.
  • If you file an answer to the complaint, the court will either set the case for a pretrial conference or mediation depending on the practice of the assigned court. You must attend. This is an opportunity for the parties to meet and try to settle the case, or to set the case for a trial before a judge or a jury. A judge will decide the case unless a party requests a jury. 
  • Doublecheck the date and time of the hearing and make sure you arrive at the courthouse at least 15 minutes before the hearing time. Go to AZCourtHelp.org and use the "Find my Court" tab to find your court's location information. 
  • If the judge calls the case and you are not there, the judge may not consider your written defense and enter a default judgment against you. 
  • A default judgment is a court order signed in your absence ordering you to pay the amount requested by the creditor without you being able to defend yourself.
  • If you reach an agreement with the creditor, you will need to put those terms in writing and notify the court.
  • If you do not reach an agreement, the court will set a trial date where each party will present their side. 
  • Note the plaintiff/creditor may file a Motion for a Summary Judgment. You will need to follow the instructions and respond in writing, or you may have a judgment entered against you without a trial.
  9  TRIAL
  • Doublecheck the date and time of the trial and make sure you arrive at the courthouse at least 15 minutes before the trial start time. Go to AZCourtHelp.org and use the "Find my Court" tab to find your court's location information.
  • If the plaintiff appears but the defendant does not, the court will consider the plaintiff's evidence and, if supported by the evidence, the court may award judgment for the plaintiff.
  • If the plaintiff fails to appear, but the defendant appears, the court may dismiss the lawsuit with or without prejudice, or may award judgment for the defendant.
  • If both parties fail to appear at the hearing, the court may dismiss the complaint and any counterclaims without prejudice, meaning the claims may be refiled.
  • If the judge rules in favor of the plaintiff/creditor, a judgment may be entered against you and interest is charged at a court-approved rate until it is paid in full. A judgment creditor can then take legal steps to enforce the judgment by garnishing your wages or bank accounts and placing a lien on any property you own. A judgment will last 10 years on a credit report and can be renewed.
  • Once a judgment has been paid in full, you should get a satisfaction of judgment signed by the creditor. Be sure you file this document with the court so it is reflected on your credit report.