Seeing your name as the subject of a warrant in debt is enough to make any business owner’s heart stop. But, while warrants are typically precursors to an arrest, search, or seizure in the criminal justice system, Virginia is one of many states that still utilize “warrants” in a civil context.
If you received a document titled “warrant in debt,” which is an outdated legal phrase loosely translating to “demand to secure money owed,” you’ve been sued in Virginia General District Court (GDC) to recover an outstanding financial obligation. It means the plaintiff claims that you or your business owes them money. A warrant in debt serves as an expedited motion for judgment in Virginia. It acts as (1) a summons appear before the appropriate GDC on the date listed to dispute the claim and/or (2) notice that if you do not appear, formal judgment may be entered against you in the amount claimed.
But what does this mean for you and your business? What should you do to dispute a claim, and what are the legal consequences if a judgment is entered against you? The experienced Virginia business consumer attorneys at McClanahan Powers, PLLC, can answer all these questions and more.
Interpreting Warrant in Debt (Civil Claim for Money) Received from Virginia
Virginia Code § 16.1-79 authorizes creditors to file a warrant in debt in the debtor’s local General District Court, a lower-level court in the Commonwealth. The warrant is presented to either the sheriff or authorized process server for delivery to the alleged debtor. A warrant in debt should contain the following information about the claim:
- The city/county and address of the General District Court where the warrant was filed and you may appear
- The date and time you’re scheduled to appear before the GDC to dispute the debt. This will be within sixty (60) days of service
- The amount of the original debt owed including the interest rate and any claimed litigation cost and attorneys fees being sought
- The type of debt owed, i.e., whether under a contract, note (mortgage), or unpaid account balance
- The full names of all parties
It’s common not to recognize the name of the alleged creditor as many debts are sold and resold to third-party collection or consolidation agencies. Plaintiffs must include the amount of the original debt so you’ll understand for which obligation you’re being sued, and many plaintiffs will include additional information to help you identify the origin of the obligation. Any payments you make towards the outstanding debt will be considered and subtracted from the amount claimed before judgment is entered.
What to Do After You Received a Warrant in Debt in Virginia
Most warrants in debt are filed when previous collection attempts have failed. As such, many defendants are familiar with the nature of the obligation before receiving a warrant in debt. Defendants are not legally obligated to take any action on a warrant in debt in Virginia, but failure to do so can have dire consequences. You have the following options after you’re served with a warrant in debt:
- Hire a Virginia Attorney: An attorney is permitted to appear on your behalf (you do not have to attend the hearing) on the date scheduled (or rescheduled as necessary). An attorney may request a “bill of particulars” at the scheduled hearing, which requires the plaintiff to provide you with additional information about the obligation. He or she may also dispute the debt, argue for dismissal, show the court weaknesses in the plaintiff’s evidence, or present evidence of payment and/or non-obligation on the debt at trial.
- Appear “Pro Se”: You may choose to appear before the judge in your own defense. If you have clear evidence of non-obligation or payment of the debt, the judge can consider that at the hearing and dismiss the claim.
- Settle the Claim with the Plaintiff: If a judgment is entered against you, the plaintiff gains substantial rights to garnish wages and otherwise collect on the obligation. He or she may also be awarded additional costs, attorney’s fees, and substantial interest. Defendants who cannot reasonably dispute the obligation may wish to negotiate a settlement with the plaintiff or hire an attorney to do so. This may mean offering the plaintiff a smaller, lump-sum payment to withdraw the claim and clear the debt.
- Present Evidence of a Bankruptcy Petition: Your bankruptcy attorney and/or the bankruptcy court may assist you with this process. Any financial proceedings against you must immediately be stayed (stopped/frozen) if you’ve filed a petition for bankruptcy.
- Ignore the Warrant: By ignoring the warrant, you’re essentially permitting the court to enter judgment against you in the amount claimed. This is including any accumulated interest, litigation and collection costs, and attorney’s fees. You’re generally waiving your right to challenge the legality of the debt once a judgment is entered. A plaintiff with a judgment against you may garnish your wages and even seize your property. Judgments also appear on your credit report. Virginia law highly favors a plaintiff’s right to collect on a judgment, and filing bankruptcy is often the only way to prevent garnishment and seizure.
Virginia is an extremely creditor-friendly state, which is why we never recommend ignoring a warrant in debt. While debtors still have rights under applicable consumer protection laws and may claim a homestead exemption to protect a residence, your rights greatly diminish once a judgment is entered.
Schedule a Consultation with a Virginia Consumer Protection Lawyer Today
Warrants in debt require a quick response and a strong defense in Virginia, both of which we offer. Our qualified Virginia business debt protection attorneys can review the facts, appear on your behalf, request dismissal, negotiate with the plaintiff, defend your rights at trial, and even assist you with bankruptcy proceedings. Ignoring or failing to present the admissible evidence necessary to defend against a warrant in debt may mean paying more than you owe in principle, interest, costs, and attorneys fees and risking garnishment and property seizure. Don’t delay. Speak with a Virginia debtor’s attorney at McClanahan Powers, PLLC today by calling (703) 520-1326 or contacting us online.