Dan Freund, Eau Claire bankruptcy attorney

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judge's gavelThis page contains general information. Contact a WBG attorney for specific advice.

A lawsuit begins with a “summons” and a “complaint” from the plaintiff, the party suing you. The complaint contains the plaintiff’s claims. At the end you will find a statement asking the judge to do something. Often the plaintiff asks the judge to grant a judgment saying you owe money to the plaintiff. But the complaint could ask for other relief, such as foreclosure.

Deadline to respond. The summons tells you what you must do if you want to fight the complaint. In small claims cases that often means showing up at a certain time and place. In larger claims cases that usually means filing a written document by a certain deadline.

Time is of the essence. If you don’t respond properly the judge may grant a “default” judgment for whatever the plaintiff asked for in the complaint. The plaintiff may then to try to enforce the judgment. (More about judgment enforcement at the end of this article.)

Defenses. You may have one or more defenses to the plaintiff’s complaint. Often you will disagree with the plaintiff’s factual claims. Perhaps you will find that the plaintiff violated a procedural rule. Or maybe the law prohibits the plaintiff’s claim for some reason. For example, the plaintiff may have waited too long to sue you.

You could lose some of these defenses if you don’t raise them at the beginning of the lawsuit. So you should consult an attorney right away if you receive a summons and complaint.

Counterclaim. If you have a claim against the plaintiff you can make a “counterclaim.” Again, you must act quickly to protect your rights.

Discovery, summary judgment, and mediation. If you contest the case then you and the plaintiff may do “discovery,” asking questions of, or requesting documents from, the other party. If one party thinks the other side has no meaningful evidence then that party can ask for “summary” judgment without trial. In addition, the judge may require – or the parties may agree to – mediation (settlement talks with a facilitator).

While mediation is often informal, discovery and summary judgment procedures can be quite strict. In certain circumstances the judge can grant a default judgment when a party fails to follow the required procedures. Having an attorney can help you avoid these risks.

Trial. The judge will hold a trial if the case does not get settled or resolved by default or summary judgment. Then the judge will grant judgment to one party or the other.

Post-judgment. The winning party can try to enforce the judgment by garnishment, seizure of non-exempt property, and other means. However, some parties are judgment-proof. And others may file bankruptcy to stop judgment enforcement. Read more about judgment enforcement.

More bankruptcy questions? Check our our FAQ page.

This page contains general information. Contact a WBG attorney for specific advice.
Wisconsin Bankruptcy Guide is provided by law firms designated as Debt Relief Agencies by the federal government because we help people file for relief under the Bankruptcy Code. We also provide other types of debt relief options.

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