11 Ways to Defend Against a Debt Collection Lawsuit in Florida
A debt collector has served you with a complaint for non-payment of debt. Before you were served, you tried to negotiate, but to no avail. What should you do now? Depending on the situation, here are some possibilities to defend against a debt collection lawsuit in Florida.
1. Consider Hiring a Florida Debt Collection Defense Attorney
If the debt is substantial, you should at least consult with a debt collection attorney. There may be defenses of which you may be unaware or need help arguing. See our blog post, Do I Need a Florida Debt Collection Defense Attorney?
Many attorneys, including Attorney Debt Fighters, offer an initial free consultation. This gives you an opportunity to learn free of charge
- Your options
- Whether your case is worth potential legal fees and costs
- What course of action makes sense from an objective and professional third party
Bonus: If your attorney thinks your creditor has taken illegal actions against you, they may take your case without upfront costs to you. They will then ask the court to order that the plaintiff pay your legal fees.
2. Respond to the Complaint Within the Allowed Time
When a creditor sues you in court, they must issue a summons notifying you that they have filed a complaint. In Florida, you have 20 days to respond in a formal legal brief known as an “answer” in order to defend against a debt collection lawsuit. The answer must be filed with the clerk of court, and you should take at least two extra copies for the court to stamp. You should send one copy by certified mail to the plaintiff and keep one copy as proof you filed.
If you don’t respond, the court is going to issue a default judgment against you. Odds are that the court will grant the creditor everything for which they asked if you ignore the complaint.
3. Challenge Validity of Service
Florida has specific requirements that must be met before service of process of a lawsuit is valid. If your creditor does not meet these requirements, you can have the lawsuit thrown out of court. Of course, this is only a temporary tactic, because the plaintiff can correct the error and serve you again. If your creditor did not serve you correctly, you need to state why in your answer to their complaint.
4. Challenge the Plaintiff’s Right to Sue
If you challenge them, a creditor must show that they are the legal owner of a debt you owe. But here’s the thing. Debts are often sold before a creditor finally sues you. Often, proper paperwork does not accompany the debt to the new owner. That means, once a debt is sold, new owners are often unable to provide proof of their right to sue. If that’s the case, you’re usually off the hook. You can read more about this in our blog post, I’m Being Sued by Midland Funding! What Should I Do?
5. Use Burden of Proof to Your Advantage to Defend Against a Debt Collection Lawsuit
An important thing to keep in mind is that the burden of proof is on the creditor suing you, not on you. They are the ones who must prove that you actually owe the debt, the amount of the debt, and as just discussed, that you owe it to them.
Make your creditor produce documentation for what you owe. If it’s a credit card debt, make them produce documentation that goes back to the day you opened the account. Once again, if the party suing you bought the debt, they may not be able to produce documentation that adequately proves what you owe.
6. Check the Statute of Limitations
Statutes of limitations are laws that indicate how long a party has to bring a lawsuit. They vary according to the situation, but they usually start on the last day you were active on an account such as buying something with a credit card or making a payment. This is a very good reason you should seek legal counsel before making any payments. You may start up a statue of limitations that was about to expire.
7. File a Countersuit if Your Creditor Violated the Law
Sometimes debt collectors violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) or other consumer protection laws. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that covers the behavior of third-party debt collectors. These are the people who are collecting for the vendor you did business with or those who bought the debt from the vendor.
Should a debt collector violate the FDCPA, they may end up having to pay your legal fees and damages on top of that. So, if debt collectors are calling you beyond allowed hours, lying to you, threatening to sue you for debts beyond the statute of limitations or committing a myriad of other violations, you may have a good countersuit.
8. Dispute Fraudulent Charges
If someone else illegally made charges on your credit card, you are not responsible. So, if someone steals your card, steals your identity or just rings up a few extra purchases on top of the one you made from them, you are not liable. Of course, should you see this kind of activity, immediately notify your credit card company.
9. Dispute Debts Due to Similar Name
Sometimes people are sued by mistake because they have the same name as a delinquent debtor. You can easily fight this, or at least your lawyer can. Remember, the creditor is the one who must prove it’s you who owes the debt.
Of course, it is easier to negotiate before a creditor sues you, but it still may be possible to settle. Creditors want to get what money they can as fast as they can. If they think a settlement is in their best interests, they will be open to it. Your Florida debt collection defense attorney is probably going to be able to hammer out a better deal than you can.
11. Consider Filing Bankruptcy
In some cases, rather than defend against a debt collection lawsuit, you may just want to declare bankruptcy. If you owe a large amount of money without any defenses, and you do not see how you can ever repay it, you may want to consider filing for bankruptcy. When you file for bankruptcy, an automatic stay goes into place. Debt collectors can no longer come after you while the bankruptcy is in process. Of course, there is a lot to consider about filing bankruptcy. Speak with a good Florida bankruptcy attorney about how it will affect your finances and your future.
Call Us If You Fear Being Sued by a Creditor
Do you need a Florida debt collection defense attorney to help you defend against a debt collection lawsuit? Call us so we can advise you of your options.
If you are being sued or if a debt collector is threatening to sue you, immediately contact Ziegler Diamond Law: Debt Fighters for a free consultation by submitting this form. Or just call us directly at (727) 538-4188 in Clearwater, (813) 225-3111 in Tampa or (352) 600-1326 in Mt. Dora. There is no time to waste!