What Is a Writ of Summons & Why Would I File One?


A Writ of Summons is an official legal document, “summoning” a person to appear in court. If you receive a Writ of Summons in Pennsylvania, it means that someone intends to file a formal complaint against you, meaning a lawsuit has begun. In Pennsylvania, anyone seeking to send another party a Writ of Summons will need to begin the process through the Court of Common Pleas. The process for filing a Writ of Summons is simple and is a common way to initiate a lawsuit against another party.

If you receive a Writ of Summons, you should consider it a notification that another party intends to file a legal complaint against you, but it does not mean the court has made any judgments on the case yet.

What Is a Praecipe for a Writ of Summons?

In Pennsylvania, a praecipe for a Writ of Summons is a document that the plaintiff fills out in order to begin legal action against another party. After the writ is processed and signed by the Clerk of Courts and the sheriff’s office, the defendant will receive the document in the mail. The writ serves as a notification that an action has been taken out against him or her, but it will not detail the nature of the complaint or further details about the case.

You can acquire a Praecipe for a Writ of Summons at the office of the Prothonotary or Clerk of Courts. It will cost $14.25 to submit. The praecipe only requires that you include your name and address, and the name and address of the party you are filing against.

What Happens After the Praecipe Is Filed?

After the praecipe for the Writ of Summons has been filed, the plaintiff must then file a formal complaint in order to continue legal action. The purpose of the Writ of Summons is to notify the defendant ahead of time that legal action is being taken against them, whereas a formal complaint details the nature of the offense. When you file a complaint, you will describe in writing the offense and how much monetary reparation you are seeking from the defendant.

After this step is complete, the Magisterial District Judge will set a court date. You are required to provide the defendant with the complaint paperwork, either by asking the clerk to mail it, asking the sheriff to serve it, or by delivering it personally. If you file a Writ of Summons but do not subsequently file a formal complaint, the lawsuit will not progress.

If you are the recipient of a Writ of Summons, you may serve the plaintiff a Rule to File a Complaint. This will require the plaintiff to file a formal complaint no later than 20 days after the Writ of Summons was served in order to continue the lawsuit. If he or she fails to do so within that time frame, you—the defendant—will enter a judgment of non pros. This means that a judgment has been made in your favor, since the plaintiff did not continue to take legal action against you.

Another way that a Writ of Summons can become void is if the sheriff’s office does not serve it. A Writ of Summons must be served within 30 days after it was filed. If the sheriff’s office does not serve the writ within this time frame, the writ will essentially expire. In such a case, the praecipe will have “tolled the Statute of Limitations” and become inactive. However, the prothonotary can reissue the writ. According to Pennsylvania law, he or she can reissue the complaint “at any time and any number of times.”

Get Help with a Writ of Summons

Although the praecipe for a Writ of Summons and filing a formal complaint are simple and easy to access, navigating a lawsuit can be complicated. We recommend seeking legal assistance if you intend to take action against another party, or if someone has taken action against you. If you aren’t sure how to move forward with a legal matter, contact us about setting up a free consultation.

Since 1922, our Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers have filed tens of thousands of injury claims and have recovered millions of dollars. Our familiarity with the injuries you’re facing and familiarity with the courts in Harrisburg, Carlisle, Hanover, Lancaster, and York make us a vital source of answers and guidance.

At Handler, Henning & Rosenberg, we will discuss with you your concerns and questions, and give you our professional opinion about how to proceed—all for free. Contact us at (888) 498-3023 today.

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