I am being sued by a local business and can't afford a lawyer. Where do I find out how to defend myself?

This plumbing company came to my home, gave me an estimate to repair a broken water pipe outside the home at the curb. I signed a contract for almost $10,000.00 of work. When the plumber left the home to initiate the repair process, my husband, who is quite ill and hadn't heard what had been happening, explained to me that he had purchased insurance (without my knowledge) from our local gas company for gas and water-line repair from the street to the house. I immediately called the plumbing company & canceled the contract (the plumber had explicitly told me that I had 3 days in which to cancel the contract). They are now suing me for $350 + court costs, claiming that it cost them that much between the time the guy left my house & the time I called to cancel. This is the second summons: I showed up at the first one in July, and no one from the plumbing company showed up. The second summons appeared at my door yesterday, delivered by the County Sherriff.


OK... I DID call the plumber within 3 hours. That's when he told me I owed them $350. I laughed and said "Sue me." He took me literally. They filed a complaint with the local magistrate; I showed up, they did not. The magistrate told me the plumbing company, even tho they did NOT show up, had the right to re-file. I guess they waited until 3 days before Christmas for maximum emotional impact. This time, they have filed with the County Court. Yes, my husband has progressive MS, and was asleep and ill at the time the plumber was giving me his salespitch (BTW, I've unofficially asked a few plumbers how much they would charge for the same job--ALL of them came in at under $3,000---my fella's esimate was almost $10,000). You should read the THREATENING

Update 2:

letter they sent to collect the $350 in question... it was unbelieveably descriptive about how I'd be embarrassed in front of my neighbors when the sherriff showed up to kick me out of my home in order to hold a sherriff's sale in order to pay my plumbing bill. These guys are unbelieveable. I sent them a $65 check---the amount they had stated to me by phone as their usual "service charge" for walking in the door. They never cashed it. I don't care if I can't afford a lawyer--I am going to go into that courtroom and tell the judge what's been going on. My husband is extremely ill, I can't work because I have to take care of him, we have NO $$, and these guys are making my life miserable. Thank you all for your input... I need all the help I can get. God bless!

13 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Best Answer

    I am so sorry this is happening to you. But I think you might be ok since no work was done. Sometimes you can get help thru Legal Aid. But that is usually for poor people. First of all make sure you document everything like phone calls, dates and such. I am surprised that you didn't get the lawsuit dismissed when the plumbing co. reps did not show up in court the first time. Be sure and mention that to the judge when you show up again, but make sure you don't miss the next court date as someone else advised because you will lose automatically. They call that a default judgement.

    I don't know where you live but sometimes bad publicity will make a company give you a break. Some community television stations have consumer advocates and actually will make a story about it and make them look bad. They almost always will back off from this bad publicity they will endure.

    Contact the local Better Business Burough or BBB. See if they have other complaints. You can also contact the local (usually county) contractors license board to see if they are licensed. Tell them the situation. See what they say. From the amount you are being sued it most certainly must be a small claims court. There is no lawyers involved and many judges are sympathetic with the little guy (or lady) that is being needlesly pursude in there courts.

    And if all else fails. Try to negotiate with them. Talk to them if you haven't allready. But don't forget to tell the judge that you've allready appeared in court and they didn't show up the first time. I wish you luck in your situation. I think they are trying to take advantage of you in some way. I'd like to see what they are saying cost them when they didn't do anything but give you an estimate and make up a contract. Good Luck and Merry Christmas. Hope your husband feels better.

  • anna13
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    Just FYI, you don't get a public defender in this kind of civil case.

    I also wonder why this case wasn't thrown out when the plaintiffs failed to show the first time. Should they fail to show next time, request the case be dismissed with prejudice.

    If your state has a three day grace period, then the amount the plumber is charging you should be proof that you cancelled within the required period, and thus you will win your case. But if there is no state law allowing a back-out period, then you are only going on the plumber's word, assuming it's not in the contract.

    Anyway, should the plumber deny allowing you a three day back-out period (which he would be entitled to do if it is not written in the contract and there is not an overriding state law) then I would suggest you get proof from the plumber of his loss of $350. If you called him immediately, it's hard to see where he suffered this amount of damages. The burden is on him to prove that he suffered these damages, and you have the right to see evidence of his loss.

    I stunk at contract law, so I can't really comment on whether or not it's possible to verbally retract a written contract, or whether or not a verbal granting of a three day grace period can override anything in a written contract. These might be issues to take to someone at your local legal aid office.

    To add one more thing - a contract existed from the moment he presented the contract to you and you signed it. It doesn't matter that the work hadn't started yet.

    EDIT: Ok, here's another edit now that you've added more info. It sounds like a really difficult situation, and like you really don't need this kind of headache right now. Your situations sounds exactly like the kind of case most legal aid offices would pick up. I strongly suggest contacting a legal aid office for help. It will be free, and they should be able to get you out of this. I have no additional legal information to provide - I'm a lowly third year law student - but I did want to express my empathy for your situation and give you some support. If I were a real lawyer, I'd give you some free legal help!

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    The best strategy may be to file a misdemeanor complaint in the local criminal court for harassment and fraud.

    You should also contact the Better Business Bureau and the State department of consumer frauds. The MS society charities for the disabled and (if you are older) aged will also help and advise you.

    And you should show up in court. I suggest you visit the court once or twice in advance and sit through some trials to gain confidence.

    You might also contact the consumer help column of a local paper, Craigslist and other sites to exchange ideas with others -- and to find out what other customers have been scammed by this firm.

    When you go to court, if the firm does not, again, show up, make a motion to DISMISS THE CASE "WITH PREJUDICE" -- i.e., so they can't file again. If they DO show up, make a motion to dismiss on the grounds that they defaulted the first time and that this is RES JUDICATA (a decided matter). You may not win on the second motion, but it's worth a try.

    The firm probably violated the "doorstep" law -- your right to back out of the transaction. You should also ask the court to award you your costs and expenses, including any lost pay. You may or may not get it, but it doesn't hurt to ask.

    Write down all the facts in outline form so you can talk cogently and effectively before the judge.

  • Kdude
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    It is small claims court therefore you can not have a lwayer. Go to court with proof that 1: Your husband was or is qute ill. 2: You have a repair contract with the company. 3. Proof you contacted the company if you have it. 4. Proff you went to court and hey did not show up, the case should have been dropped at that time if you had asked for it to be. %. Does the contract say you have 3 days to cancel? Be sure to take it either way.

    They are hoping to bully you into paying them out of court I suspect.

    But they must prove damages and that you owe the damages. Don't sweat it to much. I suspect the judge will take pity on yopu and find the company is out of line. If not it is only $350.00. You could file a countersuit for deceptive practices since they told you you had 3 days to cancel.

    The judge will probably find them charging you an excessive amount and throw the case out of court.

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  • 4 years ago

    Contact your unemployment office or your local Labor Relations Office. Both are free. You can also go to small claims court. You will have to pay a small fee to file but if you win you will get that back. Not sure of cost but I would guess around $15. You don't need a lawyer for small claims. You just go before a judge and tell them your side of the story. Your employer will explain his side and the judge will decide who's right. If you win your employer will have to pay the court costs.

  • 1 decade ago

    Assuming everything you say is accurate, there is a problem here. The three day opt-out clause of your contract is correct. Most states say that a contract, written or verbal depending on your jurisdiction, become legally binding after three business days. You say you immediately called to cancel but obviously immedietly was after three days. So your plumber has a valid case here. But what I do not understand is the second summons. If he did not show up in court to support the first one then why were you given a second summons? The judge should have thrown it out right there. Are you sure you're telling us everything?

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    I will tell you this, everyone gets so scared when they have to go to court, because its not something most people have to do but maybe once in a life time. Now, you can get a lawyer and a good share of them will want $2000 down, before they even walk in the court room to represent you. You don't need them. Here is what will happen when you get to court. The judge will listen to them and there phony story first( sounds to me like they are trying to rip you off) then he or she will turn to you and ask you to tell your side of the story. The judges are just as human as you, some are really quite nice. If this story is, as you tell it, I think the judge will throw the case out. If you have any documentation of any of this, take it with you to court.

    I know what I'm telling you because we went through a similar deal with our son. He was so nervous and thought he had to have a lawyer to represent him or he would loose. He called 3 different lawyers and they all wanted $2000 just to go into court. He didn't have that kind of money and finally I told him, the heck with the lawyer. Just have your ducks in a row when you go to court and speak for yourself. I went with him just for moral support. The judge listened to their claim first and then turned to my son and asked him if this was true and what he had to say.

    He told his side of the story, the judge turned to the people that were trying to sue him and said, " you have been in my court room before with no proof of anything and I do not want to see you here again. If you ever come back you better know what your talking about. Our son walked out without oweing a lawyer $2000 for what in reality, anyone could do theirself.

    So, I would just go tell my story and let the chips fall where they may. I think it may be in your favor to represent yourself because......they figure you must have money if you can afford to hire a lawyer in the first place.

  • 1 decade ago

    You always have the option of having a Public Defender (who are free to any U.S. citizens) - you would have to contact the court to see how to get in touch with one if you really think it's neseccary, but you just proved your case to me, and that's all you need to do with the judge. I have been to court a few (too many) times and it's not like you think it will be. All you have to do is explain yourself to the judge and hopefully you kept a copy of the contract explaining that there is a 3 day grace period. But if the other party isn't showing up there is no case.Also if you continually have to show up for court dates which the suing party is disregarding, and miss work because of it, you can turn around and sue them for wages missed from work. But that's up to you if you want to take it that far. Time is money!!

  • lpgnh3
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    You need to contact your State Attorneys General office for two reasons. First is the pluming company in itself using unfair / deceptive / harassing tactics. Second, regarding the original small claims case against you, when the plaintiff failed to appear you won the case. Filing a second claim for the same thing amounts to double jeopardy.

  • 1 decade ago

    Call the DA and see if they think you really need a lawyer, or if you can show up with your story about verbal agreements and paperwork from the plumber. You should get sick and go to the doctor on court day.

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