When you are served with a lawsuit, you are generally given a Complaint/Petition and a Summons. The Complaint or Petition states the grounds on which you are being sued. It is filed by the person suing you, known as the Plaintiff or Petitioner. If you are being sued, you are known as the Defendant or Respondent. The Summons gives you relevant information about a matter including how many days you have to respond to the intital documents. In Minnesota, you generally have 20 or 30 days to submit your response, but other deadlines may apply. Failure to respond to the initial documents may act as an admission of all of the allegations and claims listed against you. Once admitted, you will have a difficult time defending yourself in Court and you will likely be found liable, or responsible, for that requested in the initial documents. Once you receive a lawsuit, you should contact an attorney immediately. Even if you choose not to contact an attorney, you are still required to submit an Answer to the Plaintiff where you either admit or deny each claim in the Complaint. If you do not submit your Answer to the Plaintiff within the time period listed on the Summons, the Plaintiff can ask the Court for a default judgment.
Generally, a default judgment is entered against a defendant/respondent in a lawsuit if they do not answer the complaint/petition within the required amount of time. A failure to respond to a lawsuit eventually acts as an admission to all of the claims listed in the Complaint. Even if you do not participate in the lawsuit, the Plaintiff can still get a judgment against you for the monetary amount they listed in the Complaint, which is known as their “damages,” or for other relief requested.
In certain circumstances, you may be able to get a default judgment reopened or "vacated." However, this largely depends on specific facts and is best evaluated by a professional. Similarly, for some judgments the cost of attempting to have the matter reopened and then litigated may be more expensive than simply negotiating some form of repayment. Either way, it is never a good idea to simply ignore a lawsuit in which you are named.
There are also multiple types of courts capable of hearings civil proceedings. The most common is district court, with which most people are familiar. Conciliation court is another fairly common venue.
Conciliation court, also known as Small Claims Court, is a relatively informal process for people to settle small disputes without having to hire a lawyer. It is often much cheaper to file a claim in conciliation court. Filing fees are significantly lower, often approximately $75.00 instead of at least $300.00 required to file most lawsuits in Minnesota. Conciliation court is also often very informal, as it has very relaxed procedural requirements, at least when compared to most civil court proceedings. There is a cap on the amount of money you can recover in a conciliation court dispute. In Minnesota, you are limited to $15,000.00, except for a few exceptions. If you file a consumer credit transaction, the maximum amount you can recover is $4000.00. You cannot file a claim in conciliation court that exceeds the monetary cap. If you decide to reduce your claim to the monetary cap, you cannot claim more later. You are also required to bring all disputes related to the transaction or occurrence that caused your claim. In other words, you lose your right to litigate a claim if you don’t litigate every claim you have at the same time. You generally cannot recover property in a conciliation court claim. Your recovery is usually limited to monetary compensation. For example, if you are suing your previous roommate for the return of your television, the Court may order the roommate to reimburse you for the value of the television but will not require the roommate to return to television to you. You are not required to hire an attorney to represent you in conciliation court. However, under most circumstances you may have an attorney represent you. Also, you can still hire an attorney to assist you in preparing your conciliation court case.