So You've Been Sued in Michigan?
The legal system can be scary. You are served with a Summons and Complaint, (lawsuit), by a debt collector and you are confused and stressed. The first and most important thing to do is:
In Michigan you have 21 days to Answer the Complaint if you are served in person. You have 28 days if you are served by mail. If you do not respond within this time period, the creditor/debt collector will obtain a Default Judgment. Debt collectors cash in on Defaults. The vast majority of Judgments that creditors obtain in court result from the debtor simply not responding in time. Once a Default is entered, the creditor or debt collector can collect the Judgment by garnishing your wages, garnishing your tax returns, or putting liens on your property. They can also force you to show up in Court for a “creditors exam” and you will be required to disclose your assets and bank accounts. It’s not fun. So, either hire a lawyer or file an Answer yourself – your local District Court has a form Answer that you can easily fill out and file at no cost.
The correct way for a non-lawyer to approach the court system is to avoid it altogether by resolving your dispute. If this doesn’t work you'll either need to hire a lawyer or learn how to navigate a formal court proceeding. If your dispute isn't over enough money to justify paying a lawyer, (e.g. less than $1,000.00), doing it yourself may be your only realistic approach. As with learning any other bureaucratic process, learning to represent yourself will take some effort, but it's not impossible. (See below).
Hiring a Lawyer
If you don’t want to handle the matter yourself, do some research and find a lawyer to discuss your lawsuit. Be sure to find out exactly what the legal fees will be and get that on paper in a signed retainer agreement. There is plenty of assistance on the Internet to help you find the right lawyer. The National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA) is a nationwide group of lawyers who specialize in helping consumers. The NACA has a website with a lawyer search function to assist you in finding an experienced lawyer in your area. (See www.naca.net). The website AVVO (https://www.consumeradvocates.org/) also has a list of lawyers in your area and a search function to locate consumer lawyers. Finally, you can also seek referrals from friends or acquaintances.
What your Lawyer needs from you
Initially, your lawyer will need sufficient information about the alleged debt in order to represent you properly. Be prepared to immediately provide the lawyer with:
1. A copy of the Summons and Complaint;
2. Any letters, emails or billing invoices you received from the creditor/debt collector; and,
3. Any emails or correspondence you sent to the creditor/debt collector
Going on the Attack!
There is other information you may not think of, that is VERY important. This information may enable your lawyer to use a sword instead of a shield and go on the attack against the debt collector. Information such the age of the alleged debt, the identity of other debt collectors who may have contacted you, the date of your last payment, if applicable, and proof of any payments that you made, are critical. This information will assist your lawyer in using defenses such as the statute limitations, and it may even help your lawyer in supporting a counter claim against the creditor/debt collector for violating consumer collection laws.
Your lawyer will also want to know about any phone calls you made or received regarding the alleged debt, and he/she may also want you to provide your credit report to see if and how the creditor/debt collector is reporting the account. Credit reporting errors may also be valuable to assist your lawyer in filing claims under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, (FCRA).
Even if the debt legitimately belongs to you and you do not dispute the amount of the debt, your lawyer may still be able to utilize some defenses and tactics to negotiate a lower settlement.
Keep in mind that you must be honest with your lawyer about the alleged debt and about your financial situation. All information you share with your lawyer is confidential. So take this opportunity to tell the whole story, provide all the facts, and let your lawyer conduct strategy knowing all the facts.
My strongest advice is to hire a lawyer. The law is complex and the rules of conduct, rules of evidence, and civil procedure can be baffling and difficult to grasp in a short period of time. You are at a massive disadvantage facing a seasoned lawyer in a courtroom. Moreover, if you actually get to trial, the process of questioning witnesses, organizing your opening and closing arguments, and properly preserving evidence for potential appeal is a tall order for a rookie. You need to hire a pro.
But if you decide represent yourself, study hard. Know your case, but know the creditor/debt collector’s case better. What is their argument and how do you contest it? If the amount they are trying to collect is wrong, you have to prove that with cancelled checks, account statements and monthly invoices. If the statute of limitations has run out, you have to demonstrate when the last payment was made. If the account is not yours, or if it is identity theft, you have to provide a police report, identity theft affidavit, and show the Court that the debt collector made an error. Information is King. You must pour over every document and every fact in your case and be prepared to argue it.
Regarding the procedure of presenting your case in court, there are plenty of study guides and articles available on the Internet. I suggest you begin with this detailed article at the Credit Info Center website: http://www.creditinfocenter.com/legal/ive-been-sued.shtml.
In sum, if you get sued ACT IMMEDIATELY. Whether the debt is legitimate or not, it is worth your while to contact an attorney for a free consultation. If you decide to represent yourself, be diligent and prepared. Your best outcome depends on it.
For more information or a consultation please contact attorney Adam Alexander at (248) 246-6353, or check out www.myfaircreditsite.com
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