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What is a Civil Summons?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A civil summons is a legal document informing someone that a lawsuit has been filed against him or her, and that a response is required by a set date and time. The document must be served by an officer of the court or an authorized process server, and the person who serves the document must file paperwork indicating that it was served so that the court knows that the target of the lawsuit has been made aware of the pending suit. When someone receives a civil summons, it is advisable to contact a lawyer to discuss the next step.

Civil matters involve cases in which a plaintiff is attempting to recover damages or another legal remedy from the defendant. One example of a civil case is a divorce. As with other summons, people are expected to respond to a civil summons, and if they do not, they can be subject to legal penalties.

One way to respond to a civil summons is to show up in court on the date and time written on the summons to answer the plaintiff's complaint. Another way is to prepare a written response, which must be filed as directed on the summons. While it is possible to write a response without the assistance of a lawyer, a lawyer can help a defendant write a clear response which follows the format preferred by the court and which clearly states the defendant's case. If the defendant fails to respond to a civil summons, the court may enter a judgment against the defendant.

In some cases, people may be advised to ignore a civil summons. It is strongly advised to discuss this with a lawyer first, as usually ignoring a summons is not a good option. Being entered into the record as nonresponsive can put a defendant at a disadvantage; if the suit seems spurious or ill founded, it is still advisable to answer it and to spell out the reasons for believing that there are no grounds for the suit.

Traffic tickets are another form of civil summons. Many traffic tickets offer people the option of filing a guilty plea by the mail, allowing them to skip court altogether. In this case, people can indicate that they are guilty, pay the fine, and follow any other directions from the court, such as taking traffic school. Not responding to a traffic ticket can result in a hold on someone's driver's license, a warrant for arrest, or a hold on vehicle registration. People who want to fight tickets can do so in court or with a written response.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By DentalFloss — On Feb 26, 2011

A friend of mine got a couple of speeding tickets when she was still under 18. While most people probably just pay speeding tickets, I think she was actually required to answer the civil court summons because of her age, especially after the first time.

By widget2010 — On Feb 22, 2011

When I had my car towed about 18 months ago, I did not receive any sort of civil summons. While I admit it was my fault for not noticing, it was a car that I drove only occasionally and had parked on the street, unaware of a law requiring me to move it every 48 hours. Because I got no summons, it was impounded for several days. I wish I had pursued this with legal action, rather than just paying the fees, because it seems unfair that I would not only have to pay a ticket, but also pay an impounding lot's charge, for something I was unaware I had done wrong.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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