Being served with a lawsuit may be a seemingly unwarranted shock, but the cost of simply ignoring the lawsuit can be quite high. Drafting a timely answer lays important groundwork for a lawsuit and prevents a default judgment against the defendant.
Timeframe to Answer
The deadline to file an answer to a lawsuit depends on the court which issues service for the lawsuit. In a county or district court, the defendant must answer “on or before 10:00 a.m. on the Monday next after the expiration of 20 days after the date of service thereof.” Tex. R. Civ. P. 99(b); Tex. Jur. 3d, Pleading §§ 160 to 163; McDonald and Carlson, Texas Civil Practice (2d ed.) § 9:3.
When the twentieth day falls on a Monday, the answer is due on the Monday of the following week. Proctor v. Green, 673 S.W.2d 390, 392 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 1984, orig. proceeding). If the Monday appearance day falls on a legal holiday, the deadline is extended to “the next day that is not a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday. A day on which the clerk’s office is closed in the pending case’s court is also defined as a legal holiday. Tex. R. Civ. P. 4.
Definition of a Legal Answer
Consulting a lawyer is an important first step in responding to a lawsuit. Failure to respond to the lawsuit results in a default judgment, which means that the person who has filed the case wins automatically. A default judgment is also possible if the defendant files an answer and receives notice of a hearing but then fails to appear for that hearing. Hegwer v. Edwards, 527 S.W.3d 337, 340 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2017, no pet. In most cases a defendant can avoid a default judgment if some response is on file with the court. Smith v. Lippmann, 826 S.W.2d 137, 138 (Tex. 1992). In fact, Texas courts have deemed a wide range of responses as acceptable, helping defendants to avoid default judgements. Bluebonnet Financial Assets v. Miller, 324 S.W.3d 603, 610 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2010, no pet.); Tex. Jur. 3d, Pleading §§ 148 to 149.
There are cases, however, where defendants have filed an answer, and the plaintiff was still granted a defaulted judgment. A husband who signed and returned a divorce petition is a case in point. While he did offer some response, he did not include a statement or his current address on the return portion of the citation and divorce petition. As a result, he was not entitled to a notice of default judgment hearing. Narvaez v. Maldonado, 127 S.W.3d 313, 318 (Tex. App.—Austin 2004, no pet.).
After being served with a lawsuit, the best first step is to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Working with someone experienced with litigation will help a defendant navigate and respond to a lawsuit, ensuring the best possible outcome for everyone involved.
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