by Carrie E. Campbell, J.D.
Under the Texas Constitution, a person has a right to formal notice when he or she is sued, most often by the personal delivery of such notice by a constable or sheriff. Attached to the front of most Petitions or Motions, is a "Citation." The purpose of the Citation is to inform the Defendant/Respondent that he or she has been sued and the exact time frame he or she has to respond by filing an "Answer." The filing of an Answer to the lawsuit (usually in the form of a "General Denial") lets the court and other parties know that the Defendant/Respondent will be an active participate in the litigation and offering a defense to the allegations.
The address of the clerk where the Answer is to be filed can be found on the face of the Citation. The deadline to file the Answer will depend on the type of case it is and in which court the case is filed. In most county and district courts, the deadline to file an Answer is 20 calendar days, plus the number of days to the following Monday at 10:00 a.m. (So if the 20th day after delivery of the citation falls on a Friday, the Defendant has until the next Monday after that Friday to file an Answer.) In Justice Court, the deadline is often 10 days, plus the dates to the next Monday. Because there are numerous exceptions to these general rules, it is VERY important to read the Citation carefully to figure out the time you have to act.
If a Defendant/Respondent is required to file an Answer and does not do so by the given deadline, then the person who filed the lawsuit can ask the court to grant him or her a "Default Judgment." If a person fails to file an Answer, then the court will have no way of notifying him or her when such a request is made and when a hearing on that request will be held. Therefore, a person sued who filed no Answer will not be given the opportunity to offer a defense or introduce evidence to deny or mitigate the damages/actions sought. The result is that a Default Judgment typically grants the person who filed the lawsuit exactly what he or she asked for in the Petition/Motion (whether it is money, custody of the kids, or orders to force a particular action.)
Because of the severe consequences for failing to file an Answer timely, any person who is served papers should consult immediately with an attorney of his or her choice.
If you would like to speak to one of the attorneys at Mounger and Campbell, LLC about this or any other legal topic, you may ask us to contact you or call 512-847-1308.