When ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

There are times in life when we are tempted to ignore our problems in the hope that they will go away. Whilst in some cases this may be effective, in the majority of cases it is not. When your problem is a potential legal claim, ignoring it rarely makes it go away, and more often than not makes the problem worse.

We see this often in disputes over money.  The dispute could be damages from a motor vehicle accident, invoices owing or informal loan agreements to name just a few.  The excuses for why the problem hasn’t been dealt with sooner include hoping the problem or the other party will go away, allowing other matters in a person’s life to take priority or believing the demand or claim is unjustified to begin with.

Unfortunately failing to respond to another person’s demands, particularly where money is concerned, will usually have the effect of making the other party more determined to pursue their claim.  You may think you are “in the clear” only to discover the Bailiff on your doorstep serving you with papers to go to Court.  Unfortunately, once a matter is before the Court there is a process which includes strict timelines and expense.  For example, if you are served with a claim and statement of claim (or a Minor Debt Claim in QCAT) you only have twenty eight (28) days to file a defence if you say the claim is unjustified.

Failure to file a defence within that timeframe means that the other party can obtain a judgment by default and then enforce the judgment.  The other party is entitled to seek their legal costs in obtaining and enforcing the judgement in addition to interest on the claim.

If you dispute the claim and file a defence, there is a different process including disclosure of relevant documents, mediation and finally a hearing to determine which party is correct.  This process can quickly become expensive and cost tens of thousands of dollars, particularly if expert evidence is required to assist in resolving the dispute.

Should you be in a civil dispute we recommend giving it early attention to attempt to resolve it without undue expense to you.  If for example you accept that you owe money to a person, however you have insufficient funds to meet the debt straight away, you should immediately contact the debtor to organise a payment plan.  Even if the debtor does not necessarily accept a payment plan, you should begin making payments immediately as this will often stall a Debtor from filing in Court and will reduce the total amount owing in the event litigation is commenced.  It is our experience that usually a payment plan will hold off legal action unless you default.  A payment plan should always be realistic and show a meaningful effort towards meeting the debt.

If you dispute a claim, or the amount of the claim, you should immediately raise that dispute in writing.  Quite often when the dispute is raised the parties can reach a compromise.  This is a far cheaper alternative to litigation.

If you receive correspondence from a Solicitor, this is usually a sign that the other party is serious and may very well consider Court action as a next step.  You should always respond to Solicitors correspondence, and it is advisable to seek your own legal advice. 

In the event that the dispute cannot be resolved outside of Court, raising the dispute early and gathering all necessary information to assist in arguing your case before Court will assist in streamlining the litigation process and reducing costs.

If you are uncertain as to whether a claim is justified, or are not confident in dealing with another party yourself, it is always best to seek legal assistance.  

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