Why Arizona Litigation Lawyers Advise Against Ignoring Frivolous Lawsuits
We live in a society where lawsuits have become an everyday occurrence. Every day in the news one can read about a new lawsuit being brought against a person or a company for a variety of different reasons. Odds are you know someone who has sued or has been sued by somebody else. You’ve probably laughed at some of the news articles or personal stories you’ve read or heard about regarding lawsuits that might seem better suited for a fictional Netflix legal drama series. The bottom line is people sue each other all the time, for many different reasons.
It should come as no surprise then that there’s a chance that, at some point in time, everyone might be on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Sometimes, the claims brought against you will be legitimate. However, what do you do when the claims brought against you seem frivolous, or are even completely fictitious?
It might be tempting to treat a frivolous lawsuit like you might treat junk mail, spam advertisements or bogus collection attempts: by ignoring it. After all, it takes time and effort to deal with a lawsuit. In many cases, especially where frivolous claims are involved, it could seem safe to assume that the threat of a lawsuit is either completely made up or that, alternatively, the person threatening the lawsuit is simply using heavy-handed negotiating to get what they want and don’t actually intend to genuinely pursue a lawsuit. However, this course of action is strongly advised against for one major reason: default judgment.
What is a default judgment?
In short, a default judgment is a judgment entered against a party who fails to respond to a legal claim against that party. When someone (the plaintiff) brings a lawsuit, the plaintiff file a complaint with the court outlining the claims being brought against the party being sued (the defendant). Part of the complaint includes providing notice to the party being sued. This is where you might find yourself receiving notice of a lawsuit filed against you and thinking that the claims are completely frivolous. However, from the date of begin served with the complaint and notice, the party being sued has a definite amount of time to file an answer to the allegations contained in the complaint. Under Rule 55 of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure for the Superior Courts, failure to file an answer with the court within the allotted time–or in other words, ignoring the frivolous suit–allows the other party to apply for a default judgment.
When a party to a lawsuit applies for default judgment, they are required by law to provide notice to the opposing party of their application for default judgment. The opposing party then has ten judicial days to file a response to the application and oppose the default judgment. However, if the application for the default judgment is granted, the party filing the lawsuit will have a fully enforceable judgment against the defending party, regardless of the actual legal or factual merits of the claims. Therefore, even someone who brings frivolous claims against you may succeed in court if you decide to ignore the matter entirely.
Post-judgment collection, including garnishment
Waiting until a default judgment has been entered against you will make resolving the matter substantially more complicated. A default judgment allows a party to begin enforcement and collection on a judgment, even if the original claims that resulted in the judgment were frivolous. Therefore, your failure to take legal action before the judgment is entered will greatly limit your options against plaintiff’s attempts to enforce their judgment. If you had notice of a lawsuit and just chose not to respond (even if you believed the lawsuit was frivolous), it will be difficult or impossible to convince a court to vacate a default judgment.
After the judgment is entered, the judgment creditor has the option of garnishing your wages and financial accounts. Garnishment is the process by which the court permits a party collecting on a judgment to collect that money directly from the judgment debtor’s (the party paying the judgment) bank and/or employer. The party collecting the judgment or judgment creditor first applies to the court for the issuance of a writ of garnishment. In Arizona, this is a fairly simple and quick process that can usually be done within one day. A writ of garnishment is a court order to a bank or employer requiring them to set aside a portion of the judgment debtor’s assets (in the case of a bank) or wages (in the case of an employer) to pay the judgment. In the end, ignoring a lawsuit filed against you could result in you seeing your bank account suddenly diminishing or your paycheck shrinking!
Fighting the claims after a default judgment has been entered will be a very complicated legal matter and will almost surely require the assistance of an attorney. In most cases, contesting the default judgment may not be possible at all at this late stage of the legal process.
Don’t let them get a default judgment against you!
Avoiding a default judgment against you doesn’t have to be a complicated matter, especially when frivolous claims are involved. By simply filing an answer to the plaintiff’s initial complaint, you are avoiding the possibility of default judgment. In the case of truly frivolous claims, the filing of a motion to dismiss the case may be all that is required to have the case against you dismissed by the court. Even in the event that the court does not dismiss the case against you, it is always better to file an answer and not ignore the lawsuit, so that you may at least have your position heard by the judge or a jury. Regardless, by not ignoring any lawsuit filed against you, you are at least ensuring the party bringing the lawsuit doesn’t win simply by virtue of your failure to appear in the case. You should always seek the advice of experienced litigators in Gilbert or other Arizona locations when you are served with a lawsuit. They will explore your options and help you decide the best strategy for your specific situation.
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