What To Do When You Have Been Sued in Small Claims Court

If you have just been served with (given a copy of) a “Summons” and a “Complaint” to appear in court, you are now the “defendant” in a lawsuit. This article discusses what your options are.

*If you have been sued in District Court, but not in Small Claims Court, this article may still be helpful. However, since other District Court cases must follow more formal rules, you should consult a lawyer or do additional research.*


The first thing that you should do is read the Summons and the Complaint

Read everything very carefully. 

  • Look at what the plaintiff (the person who filed the suit against you) said in the Complaint?

    • Is everything accurate? If not, write down what you think is correct and what you think is incorrect. 
    • Write down your side of the story, point by point?
    • Write down what proof you have for your side of the story, point by point?
  • Are there differences between the plaintiff’s story of what happened and yours? Are the differences important?
  • Figure out how to answer each statement that the plaintiff makes. Generally, you will answer the statements with a yes or no.
  • Think about whether it would be fair if you paid the plaintiff something.  If you think that it would be fair to pay something, is it as much as the other side wants?
  • What are the deadlines? When must you respond? Put it on the calendar.

    • You must file a “Notice of Intent to Defend” – which appears on the bottom of the Summons – within 15 days of being served the Summons and Complaint.
    • In some cases, you have 60 days to respond (if you are out of state or own a business with a resident agent). Read the Rule: Maryland Rule 3-307 [1]
  • Did the plaintiff ask for a “judgment by affidavit”?

    • Look on the Complaint to see if that section was filled out.
    • This means that they are asking the judge to decide in their favor without a jury trial. See the Complaint form [2].

The second thing that you should do is review the options

As described in greater detail below, you can:

1.    Do Nothing- You can ignore the lawsuit, but you will likely lose by “default”.

2.    Raise Technical (Procedural) Issues- You can find some technical challenges and delay the process while they are fixed. 

3.    Try to Settle: Negotiation and Mediation- Try to negotiate a settlement.

4.    Prepare Your Case and Defend Yourself- File an “Intention to Defend” and prove your case in court.

5.    File a "Counter Claim," a "Cross Claim," or sue another responsible party- If the other side actually owes you some money, you can file a counterclaim.

6.    Propose Making Installment Payments- If you agree that you do owe the plaintiff money, consider trying to pay in installments.

The third thing that you should do is decide on a strategy

  • Keep track of the deadlines, and make sure that you respond on time.
  • Review your options in detail, considering the advantages and disadvantages to each.
  • Make sure to consider your personal goals along with all of the options. 

If you are not sure, seek some legal advice on what to do. Even if you handle the case yourself, it can be very useful to ask an attorney for some advice at key points where you need to make a decision. Working with an attorney as an advisor rather than as your full representative is sometime called “unbundled” legal services.

A special project of the Eastern Shore Regional Library under a Library Services Technology Act grant from the Division of Library Development Services/MD State Department of Education (author: Ayn H. Crawley).
Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – www.peoples-law.org. © Maryland Thurgood Marshall State Law Library, 2020.”