I'm being sued in Illinois, what should I do?

One of the most anxiety-inducing pieces of paper a person can be handed is something titled "Summons and Complaint", possibly through the mail, or even personally served upon you by the County Sheriff or a private investigator.

The first and most important thing you should do is not ignore this document. Even if you think the lawsuit has no basis, you were not involved, its a mistaken identity, or so on. You need to respond to the lawsuit no matter what.

If you fail to respond to the lawsuit, the other party can get a "default judgment" against you. This just means that you were served with the lawsuit and failed to respond. If you still fail to respond over 30 days after the default judgment is entered, it becomes much more difficult for you to take action to get this judgment removed, and you will be on the hook for the amount of money which the other party is seeking.

Once you are served with the lawsuit, give it a read and determine what the factual allegations are against you. What is the scenario; is it a car accident you were involved in? Did someone slip and fall on your property? These questions are important to ask yourself because there could potentially be insurance coverage to protect you.

For example, if it was a car accident, give your insurance company a call. They are obligated to provide you a lawyer to defend you (free of charge), save for some rare exceptions.

If you happen to not have insurance for the incident, it may be wise to seek out the advice of a lawyer to navigate the complex judicial system. If the lawsuit is a "small claim" (which, depending on where you live, is likely a claim under $20,000) then you may be able to defend yourself, as the procedural rules in a small claim are more relaxed.

If it is a larger amount (in Cook County, anything over $50,000), there are much stricter rules you need to abide by in order to defend yourself, and having the counsel of a competent defense attorney is essential.

The biggest takeaway here is to not ignore the lawsuit. Even if you don't have any money to pay for a judgment, you still need to show up, otherwise things can get much worse. There is no such thing as a "debtor's prison" in the United States; meaning that you cannot be put in jail for failing to pay a money judgment. However, you can be jailed for contempt of court by ignoring court orders.

So it is critical that you obey the court orders in order to minimize the money you may eventually have to pay.

Disclaimer: This article is made available by the publisher for educational purposes only, as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the publisher’s interpretation of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. This information may not reflect the law in your jurisdiction. By using this site you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the publisher. All information in this article is the opinion of the publisher and may not reflect future developments in this field. This website should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.