What Do I Do If I’ve Been Sued?
If you’re reading this, chances are that you or someone you know has been sued, is in the process of being sued or is worried about being sued. If that’s the case, you may have a few questions about what to expect going forward. While nothing can substitute for an attorney who is familiar with the specifics of your case and can advise you accordingly, the following should help you get started in the right direction.
First thing first, figure out if this is a small claims case or an actual civil case. If it is a small claims case, the Los Angeles Superior Court provides a number of excellent resources (http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/smallclaims/ui/) and most other courthouses provide similar resources. If you have any questions, you can probably find your answer there. If this is not a small claims case, read on.
Take a deep breath and relax. It’s okay. With a handful of exceptions that probably don’t apply to you, even if everything goes smoothly a case can easily take a year before going to trial and in all reality will take two or even three years to get to that point. So there’s a lot of time before you even have to think about trial. That said there are a few things that you’re probably going to want to do within the next few days of getting served:
1. Read the complaint.
When you get served, whether it be in person, by mail or through another person, you’ll probably receive a few sets of things. First, is the summons. This will probably be one of the first page in the stack of documents you receive. You can read it if you want, but it’s not all that useful to you right now as it’s basically just a cover sheet. Be sure to keep it, though, as your attorney may have use for it later. Second, you should receive a stack of documents from the court that contain basic lawsuit-related general information and instructions. I’d like to say that these are essential to read, but they’re kind’ve like all the handouts and informational brochures you get with a new credit card or checking account – possibly useful in the future, but not something you need to read right now unless you’re going to be representing yourself.
The last thing you’ll probably receive is called the complaint and possibly some documents attached to it as exhibits. This you’ll want to read. It should literally have the word “complaint” written on the front page. I’ll warn you that not all complaints make sense, either because the allegations are very complicated or possibly because the plaintiff and/or his attorney does not have a very good grasp of written language. Still, try your best to make it through the complaint, as this will tell you what you are accused of doing (or not doing) and help you understand who is suing you and why.
2. Ask for more time.
Like many other problems in life, a lawsuit comes with deadlines – dozens of deadlines, in fact. Thankfully, unlike many other problems in life, most of these deadlines can be moved by simply asking and it is very common to do so. The very first deadline you’re likely to run across is the deadline to respond to the complaint, which is only thirty days and goes by a lot faster than you might think. So if you can get additional time, even if it’s just another week or two, that will give both you and your future attorney more breathing room to plan a response.
3. Save your documents.
Once you know what the case is about and have some time to breathe, the next step is to see what documents you have that relate to the case and then save them. This includes doing obvious things, like keeping letters, contracts and other documents, but also includes the not-so-obvious things like not modifying your social media profile and turning off auto-delete on your e-mails. Basically, save everything. In case you were wondering, this also involves saving documents that may not be great for your case. Aside from the fact that it is illegal to erase evidence, very few things in this world can truly be erased and it only makes matters worse when someone finds a copy of it later on and everyone finds out (including the jury) that you tried to hide it.
4. Contact an attorney.
Note that I said contact an attorney, not retain an attorney. Consulting with an attorney is like going to the doctor and getting a diagnosis. You may ultimately choose not to do anything about the diagnosis, but at least you can make an informed decision. The same thing goes with speaking to an attorney. By consulting with an attorney you can get a better picture of what you’re facing and can make an informed decision about what to do. Also remember that, unlike going to the doctor, most attorneys will not charge you for a simple consultation. So don’t be afraid to discuss your case with another attorney if you believe the first attorney you visited wasn’t up to par.
5. Contact your insurance company.
If you have insurance coverage of any kind, it’s possible that your insurance company will pay for some or all of your legal defense. Although there’s no guarantee that your insurance company will be able to assist you, it usually can’t hurt to at least check. Do note that if your insurance company covers your claim, they will likely retain an attorney on your behalf and you may not have much choice in the matter. If you have your heart and mind set on hiring a specific attorney, this is something to keep in mind before giving your insurance company a call.
6. Retain an attorney.
You probably saw that coming. I’ll admit that I have an unavoidable bias here, but I do truly believe ever litigant should obtain legal representation. Even the legal equivalent of the common cold can easily spin out of control if you’re not careful and the damage that gets done early on may not be able to be undone down the road, even if you end up retaining an attorney later on. It’s true, of course, that with enough time and resources on hand, some people are able to competently handle their own cases. But for most people, an attorney will not only save you time and the headache of trying to learn how to practice law on the fly, but will bring to the table years of practical, real-world experience that you probably won’t be able to pick up from a book or the internet.
If you’re involved in a lawsuit or risk management and have any questions regarding current or potential legal issues, we would urge you to contact an attorney as soon as possible to obtain advice, guidance and representation. At Baker, Keener & Nahra, we have the experience, skill and drive to get the best possible results for our clients, no matter the size of the case or the scope of the problem. So if we can be of any assistance to you, please contact us and let us know how we can help.