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Ignoring a Cease-and-Desist Letter: What Can Happen?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Cease-and-desist letters are often ignored, but that doesn't mean legal consequences won't follow.

While these letters have no real legal effect, failing to respond or follow up on a cease-and-desist letter may lead to some predictable responses from the sender. And while some cease-and-desist letters are simply legal-sounding huffing and puffing, others are the harbingers of potentially ruinous and costly lawsuits.

So what can happen if you ignore a cease-and-desist letter? Here are a few possibilities:

1. You May Receive Another 1, 2... or 5 Letters.

Ignoring a cease-and-desist letter isn't quite the same as telling the sender to pound sand. The party who sent the cease-and-desist letter may keep sending them until they evoke some sort of response out of you. The subsequent letters may use more legal language and be more aggressive in tone, but they still amount to zero legal obligation on your part to comply.

A mountain of legal nothings still amounts to nothing, but know that a lawsuit may be right around the corner.

2. You May Get Sued.

Slightly more ominous and with definitely more legal effect is receiving a summons and complaint -- letting you know that you've been officially served with a lawsuit. The complaint will be a copy of the one that the opposing party sent to the court, and the summons will tell you when you're required to appear in court for the case. Unlike a cease-and-desist letter, a complaint is the real beginning of a lawsuit, and you should call an attorney.

3. You May Also Receive a Temporary Restraining Order.

Along with your summons and complaint, you may also receive a temporary restraining order, prohibiting you from doing whatever thing was irritating the person who's now suing you. You will have the opportunity to respond, but make sure to comply with the order until you speak with your attorney.

4. Nothing.

Parental advice about bullies sometimes applies to cease-and-desist orders: If you ignore them, they'll go away. Cease-and-desist letters can often be a way for clients to pay their lawyers to blow off steam for them. Once the moment has passed, it may be too big (or expensive) of a hassle to bother you with a lawsuit.

Still worried about the possibilities of ignoring a cease-and-desist letter? An attorney in your area should be able to help explain your potential risks.

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