Do you have questions about the collection lawsuit process? Are you left wondering what “Answer Filed” means? Do you know what the next steps are once a lawsuit has been disputed? Do you wonder whether a sloth can run? (Ok, I just threw that last one in there to see if you were paying attention, but believe it or not, sloths can “run” – feel free to look it up. You might regret seeing them run, but you’ll have a new fun fact to use at parties).
Getting back to collection lawsuits: once the lawsuit has been filed with a court, the owner has a “Return Date”, which is the date by when such owner must pay in full, make payment arrangements in order to avoid the association requesting judgment, or file an answer to dispute the factual allegations or claims of the association. Pre-pandemic, the parties frequently had to appear in person at the return date; now, many counties do not require a physical appearance. The owner can usually file the answer ahead of time to avoid judgment.
If an answer is filed, the court will then issue an order that typically includes setting of mediation, a pretrial hearing, and a trial date. Some courts require mediation as part of the process, while other courts do not. Likewise, some courts will require a pretrial hearing, while other courts will simply order the case proceed to trial unless a pretrial hearing is requested.
If mediation is required or otherwise ordered, the parties must appear at a date and time of their choosing and attempt to mediate or resolve the matter with an independent mediator, a mediator who has no stake in the matter. If the parties resolve at mediation, then most of the time, a stipulation regarding the resolution is filed with the court, the pretrial and/or trial dates, if previously calendared, are then removed from the court’s schedule, and the parties proceed with the agreed upon resolution.
In the event the matter is not resolved at mediation, that’s when the real work begins! The parties will need to schedule the trial date if it hasn’t been scheduled already. The documents that will be used at trial must be prepared and exchanged with the owner, and the parties must compile a list of witnesses each side intends to have testify at trial. The courts will have strict deadlines as to the date the documents and list of witnesses must be exchanged and/or filed with the court.
The parties then appear on the date of trial at the appointed time. Each side will usually make an opening statement and then call its witnesses, who will testify to various issues and matters. Once each side has the opportunity to present its evidence, the court will determine, based upon the evidence it has heard and seen at trial, which party prevails. If it is the association, then judgment will enter against the owner, and the association can then take steps to collect the judgment.
The above explanation is a simplified overview of the steps taken once an answer is filed in a collections lawsuit by the owner. However, there are always unforeseen problems and issues that can arise during the course of trial preparation and even on the trial date, which means variations of the process can and typically do, occur.
Please do not hesitate to contact an Altitude attorney with any questions concerning the collection lawsuit process at 303.432.9999 or at [email protected].