I Just Got Sued. What Do I Do Now?
Nothing can be more intimidating for a person than getting sued. The summons comes with strict language about the bad things that can happen if you do nothing. It is usually served by a Sheriff, or officious looking process server. Sometimes it is clear why one is being sued. Other times, suits come from out of the blue, from some long forgotten debt or problem. However, understanding your rights and duties can be critical to having a positive outcome. First, read the papers. Some clients I have are so scared by the process, they bring the papers in the envelope they came in, unopened and unread. This is the wrong way to start. To know what kind of lawyer you need, you need to know what court the suit is in, what the topic of the suit is, and how much is at stake. Second, you need to determine if you have any defenses. I am not talking about the technical legalistic kinds a lawyer will think up. I am talking about the basic facts. A lawyer will need to know this information, and it saves time if you are ready to discuss it. Third, never be an ostrich and bury your head in the sand and ignore it. If you need time to get a lawyer, call the lawyer suing you and get an extension. This is almost always given. Get the agreement for the extension in writing, and send a copy to the court. Whatever you do, answer the case. If you default, you will never get notice of what happens in the case. You want to know what happens. Most courts have a long time to respond -- one month or so. Use this time to get a lawyer to defend yourself. Finally, remember that this is America. The courts here are one of the great benefits of our free society. A civil case is not a criminal case. It is like public arbitration. No one, especially in the court, will look down upon you because you are a "defendant". To win, the plaintiff will have to prove a case. Much will happen between the arrival of a summons and the end of the case. Be prepared for the long haul. Control your emotions. Getting angry or emotional will not expedite the case. Settle in for a long process, and keep the focus on helping your lawyer win the case.