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This Tool Could Be a Powerful Weapon for People Sued by Their Creditors
If you’ve ever been sued by a credit card company or other financial institution over unpaid debt, a few things are probably true.
- You didn’t hire a lawyer.
- You didn’t understand how to respond to the complaint filed against you, so you ignored it.
- You automatically lost your case, and you were stuck either paying monthly installments on the debt and attorney’s fees, or your paycheck was garnished.
That’s what was happening in Utah, said Kimball Parker, an attorney and professor in the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University.
During the past five years, one debt collection lawsuit was filed for every 10 people who lived in Utah. Fewer than 2% of the accused debtors hired lawyers, he said.
In those same five years, the number of people who ignored a court notice and automatically lost their cases fluctuated between 65% in good years and above 80% in the bad years, he added.
“Responding to a lawsuit is not difficult, but it’s not intuitive at all,” Parker told The Penny Hoarder.
After being available to the public for just one day, SoloSuit had already been used 68 times, Parker said.
How Does SoloSuit Help People Hit With Debt Collection Lawsuit?
When a credit card company decides to sue over outstanding debt, one of its lawyers will file a complaint in court with numbered statements showing what the company says are the facts of the case, Parker said. For example:
- Jane Smith has been a Capital One cardholder since 2000.
- Jane Smith owes $5,000.
“When you respond to a lawsuit, there are only three ways to respond to each one of those numbered statements,” Parker said. “‘I admit the statement,’ ‘I deny the statement’ or ‘I don’t know.’”
“That’s not hard,” he added. “The problem is there is nowhere that says that’s how to do it.”
To make things worse, debtors are also under a time crunch. Once a debtor in Utah receives a complaint, they have 21 days to respond.
“If you don’t answer, the judge will accept everything in the lawsuit as true,” Parker said.
Now, when a debt collection lawsuit is filed in Utah, SoloSuit helps walk the defendant through the process of answering the claims made against them. In the end, users have a response that is ready to file. This gives people more time to hire an attorney or access other resources to help them defend themselves.
“A lot of these people will probably owe the amount that’s in there, but there’s a lot of people that will be able to lower the amount or not have to pay at all,” Parker said. “We just want to give those people a fighting chance. And that seems like the fair thing.”
But before you use SoloSuit, there are a couple things you should know.
While Parker and his students set out to create a helpful tool to start you off on the right foot when a lawsuit has been filed, SoloSuit does not replace the help of an attorney. Plus, it simply provides legal information, not legal advice specific to your case.
Don’t Live in Utah? Here’s How SoloSuit Can Help You
Parker and his students all live in Utah, so it only makes sense that they built SoloSuit to work for the residents in their state first.
Court officials in Alaska plan to test a version of the software in the state’s court system later this year. Arizona officials plan to use it to help in eviction cases later in 2018, as well.
There is no timeline for when residents in other states might be able to use their own version of SoloSuit.
For now, debtors outside Utah who need help crafting a response to a complaint can use SoloSuit as a reference tool. Just remember that the rules for answering a complaint can vary by state, so the response it generates might need to be edited before you can use it outside Utah.
As SoloSuit gains popularity, Parker and his next group of LawX students, who will take his class in the fall, will tackle a new issue that makes the legal system difficult for average people.
While he’s not yet sure what the next project will be, he is sure that it will be another free resource for the public.
“Our goal is to make Utah the easiest legal system to navigate in the nation,” Parker said. “We’re hoping that we can figure out these solutions in Utah and so then they can be applied nationwide… using Utah as an incubator to make the law more accessible.”
Desiree Stennett (@desi_stennett) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.