Lawsuit Mechanics: “I’ve Been Sued. What Happens Next?”
You are home on a Saturday afternoon, when a knock comes at the door. You greet the unknown visitor, who responds with a stack of documents, and three dreaded words. “You’ve been served.” The first page begins, “SUMMONS.” You read on, realizing that you’ve been sued. From this moment, you have twenty (20) days to prepare and file a written response to the allegations made against you, with the Clerk of the Court. However, lawsuits for residential eviction provide a defendant only five (5) working days to respond to the complaint. Puzzled and overwhelmed, you ask, “what happens next?”
First, contact your appropriate insurance carrier(s), if applicable. If, for example, you are sued for alleged negligence resulting from a motor vehicle accident, contact your auto insurance carrier. If you are a business owner whose company is sued, contact your company’s commercial general liability (CGL) insurance carrier.
Failing to comply with the terms of your insurance policy – especially those regarding your duty to notify your insurance carrier of claims and to cooperate with your insurance carrier – may result in forfeiture of valuable insurance benefits, including liability coverage and/or appointment of legal counsel selected by your insurance carrier (at no additional expense to you), to defend against a lawsuit.
Second, but equally important, speak with an experienced litigation attorney as soon as possible, regardless of whether your insurance carrier is retaining an attorney on your behalf. If your insurance carrier hires an attorney to represent you, contact him or her immediately, and ask questions! Providing your attorney ample time to thoroughly assess allegations made against you will maximize his or her opportunity to prepare a defense strategy that will likely define the course of the lawsuit. An attorney’s early involvement in litigation may result in preservation of critical evidence, including surveillance video, photographs, business records, and even social media posts.
Further, the right attorney can help you avoid a procedural pitfall – default. If a default is entered against you in a lawsuit, you are essentially prevented from participating in the case, unless and until the default is “set aside,” or undone by the court. A defaulted party cannot raise any defenses to allegations made against him or her. This can result in a court accepting all allegations made as true, even if they are not. Finally, if a defaulted party waits too long to have the default set aside, he or she may forfeit their right to make their own claims, related to the lawsuit.
Litigation is inherently stressful, even when everything goes right. Experienced litigation attorneys are trained not only to handle this stress, but to alleviate yours to the greatest extent possible. If you have been, or expect to be, served with a lawsuit, we encourage you to contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced litigation attorneys, to discuss the facts of your case.