You’ve been served: What now?

By Jamie Pouwhare

You’ve opened your mail or someone has handed you a legal document and you find yourself asking, ‘What on earth do I do now?’

What is the legal document?

In essence the legal document you have received is a means of initiating court proceedings by one person, the Plaintiff, against another person, the Defendant. The most common form of initiating proceedings is the Statement of Claim. A Statement of Claim can be used to initiate several types of court proceedings ranging from a simple debt to a complex tortious claim like negligence. The Statement of claim should outline the facts that give rise to the claim being made against you.

What do you do once you receive the Statement of Claim?

You are the Defendant in this matter as you have been served with the originating process. Unfortunately as the Defendant you are a party to the proceedings whether you like it or not. For this reason you have limited options on the way you choose to proceed:

  1. Do nothing

If you receive a claim against you for a debt or liquidated claim, for example, and decide to simply ignore it then you are in default of the proceedings. The Plaintiff may be granted default judgment against you and the court does not have to provide any further notice to you to do this. What this means is that the court may automatically grant the Plaintiff the relief sought in the claim as well as any interest accrued up to the judgment and the legal costs of the other party.[1] This is not an ideal result particularly if you believe you do not owe the debt claimed.

  1. Dispute the claim

If you disagree with the claim that has been made against you then you have the option of disputing the claim. From the moment you receive the Statement of Claim proceedings have commenced and if you wish to dispute the claim then there are timeframes which you must follow. To dispute a claim you have 28 days to file a Defence with the court from the day which you received the Statement of Claim.[2]

  1. Make a Cross-claim

If you feel that you have a claim against the Plaintiff then you have the option of filing a Statement of Cross-claim. What this means is that you are now bringing a counterclaim against the Plaintiff in the same way that they have done to you. This must be done within 28 days from the receipt of the originating claim.[3] Your claim can be for a number of reasons, such as incomplete or defective work on a building project.

  1. Acknowledgement / Payment of the claim

If you agree with the claim in its entirety then you have the option of filing an acknowledgment of the claim made against you.[4] Judgment will then be made for the Plaintiff for the entire amount claimed. Alternatively you may simply pay the Plaintiff the amount claimed. Once paid you should file a Notice of Payment with the court to stop proceedings from moving forward.[5]

If you agree that you owe part of the money claimed against you then you may pay the partial amount agreed to the Plaintiff and file a defence in relation to the partial amount of money which you disagree on.

Can I do this on my own?

You are able to take any of these actions without legal representation by filing the necessary documentation with the court as a self-represented litigant. However the court process is not always simple and easy to follow therefore we recommend seeking legal advice.

It is imperative that you have a complete understanding of the claim that has been made against you as this will allow you to assess the quality of the claim as it is entirely possible that the claim is weak and there is in fact a cross-claim that can be made. As a result of being fully informed you may save yourself a considerable amount of time and money in the future.

If you think you have a disputed claim and would like assistance in working out which option is best for you then contact us at Vaarzon-Morel Solicitors, (02) 4929 1174.

At Vaarzon-Morel Solicitors we pride ourselves on the personal touch. From the first phone call through to the resolution of your matter, you will be dealing directly with an experienced solicitor, willing to take the time to explain the law and ensure you understand what is happening during each and every step of the legal process. Our open and upfront approach means no complicated legal lingo or hidden surprises – just personal service and satisfied clients.

Marcel and the team understand that no two cases are alike, and we strive to provide tailored legal solutions to your unique matter in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost. As a boutique firm, we are able to go out of our way to ensure our services best accommodate your needs.

[1] Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) r 16.6 (1).

[2] Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) r  14.3 (1).

[3] Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) r  9.1 (1).

[4] Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) r  20.34 (1).

[5] Uniform Civil Procedure Rules 2005 (NSW) r 16.7 (3).

The contents of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.