Credit Card Lawsuits, Part I: How Long Do I Have to Respond?

The sheriff has come to your door and served you with a credit card lawsuit. Your mailbox is beginning to overflow with letters from attorneys wanting to represent you. The lawsuit itself doesn't make a lot of sense. What do you do?

The first thing you'll probably want to know is whether you should respond, and secondly how you should respond. This raises the first big question: How long do I have to respond to a credit card lawsuit?

If the lawsuit was filed in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas, there will be a hearing date on the cover sheet of the petition served on you. However, this is not the most important date for filing a response. The date on which the sheriff serves the lawsuit on you (or any adult in your home) will start the clock ticking on when you must respond.

The "Notice to Defend" in the paperwork served on you will read:

"If you wish to defend against the claims set forth in the following pages, you must take action within TWENTY (20) days after this complaint and notice are served, by entering a written appearance personally or by attorney and filing in writing with the court your defenses or objections to the claims set forth against you..."

Seems pretty straightforward? 20 days to file a response. This doesn't seem like a lot of time, and it is not. The good news is that you will have more than 20 days in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. (this DOESN'T seem very straightforward!) When the 20 days after you have been served expires, the Court will automatically grant you another 10 days to file a response. The Court will mail you a notice of this 10 day extension, the sheriff will not come to your door again. The policy is to give defendants in credit card lawsuits every possible opportunity to defend themselves.

So, to answer the original question, you basically have 30 days from the date of original service to respond to a credit card lawsuit in Allegheny County. Once those 30 days expire, the lawsuit will become a "default judgment" (the subject of a future post). It is probably a good idea to use these 30 days wisely... contact an attorney. Consider these 30 days to be a grace period where you have an opportunity to take action to protect your interests.

The next logical question is what constitutes an actual "response". It will be the subject of our next blog post.