The Five Things You Must Do When You Have Been Sued
You open the mailbox and see that you have a certified letter waiting for you to sign for it at the post office. When you finally get around to the post office to pick up this letter and when you open it, your heart sinks. You have been sued. Like most people, you probably have never been sued in yo
Don*t Ignore itlawsuit is a ticking time-bomb. Once you have been served, you have a limited number of days to respond. In Oklahoma, for example, you have 20 days to respond. Keep in mind, these are calendar days not business days. Further, in Oklahoma service may be accomplished by certified mail. This is a a typical way to serve a defendant and it is completely valid. Don*t make the mistake of thinking that because a John Wayne type deputy did not come bursting in your front door and announcing that you have been served that service has not been accomplished. All too often people come into my office with a default judgment and complain that they were never served when it turns out that they did not realize that service was completed when they signed for that certified letter. If you fail to respond to a lawsuit when you have been properly served, you will receive a judgment against you in default and many times there is absolutely nothing that can be done once that happens.
Gather Your InformationUsually lawsuits take several months or even a year to get filed. Usually the incident that is the basis of the lawsuit is well out of your mind when the petition arrives at your door. It is all too tempting to shrug your shoulders and say I don*t remember anything. However, you need to start remembering. Gather text messages, emails, pictures, contracts, anything that is related to the lawsuit. You may think you have nothing of value but you*d be very surprised. The simplest things can jog a memory or help your attorney formulate a legal plan.
Start identifying people who can be witnesses and get their name and phone number ready. Your attorney will want that information and will need to talk to these people.
Contact your insurance carrier*even if you think it isn*t covered or is completely unrelated to tAt this point you are probably panicking and thinking that you will not be able to pay for representation. However, you need to start considering all of your resources including your home owner*s insurance or renter*s insurance carrier. This one surprises most folks. Your home owners or renters insurance has two benefits, one for property loss, but importantly it also offers a duty to defend against negligence. Generally depending on how the petition is pled, if the petition alleges simple negligence it may be enough to kick in that benefit even under a reservation of rights. What that means for you is that the insurance carrier will appoint and pay for your attorney and often will pay a settlement. For example, I have a client who is being sued in Federal Court under the Civil Rights Act. Luckily, he had the foresight to contact his renters insurance carrier who agreed to provide him a defense and hired my firm to represent him. Some people are reluctant to contact their carrier for fear that this will increase their insurance premiums. This way of thinking is penny wise and dollar foolish. Remember, hiring an attorney is costly and it is not unusual for even a minor a lawsuit to bring in $20,000 or more in attorneys fees and people have gone bankrupt paying for attorneys. Depending on how complex the lawsuit is, you could end up paying over $100,000 in attorney fees. The average American does not have that sitting around. Therefore, there is every reason to contact your carrier and at least attempt to get coverage
Contact your trade union or HR to see if you have legal benefits.4. Contact your trade union or HR to see if you have legal benefits.
The American Federation of Teachers as well as the International Union of Police Associations provide free or discounted legal help. This is especially true if the lawsuit is related you your work but is equally true if it*s completely unrelated. Even if all that is provided is discounted legal services, it is a huge step in the right direction and can at least get you stated with some legal protections.
Also, contact your company*s HR department. Many companies provide prepaid or discounted legal representation or even legal insurance through groups such as ARAG. For example, ARAG has a list of attorneys who agree to their fee scheme upfront and will contact lawyers in your area who handle your type of matter to see if they will take your case.
Contact an attorney.If all of this information has you overwhelmed, contact an attorney. Any good attorney will help you through the process of contacting your insurance carriers and demanding coverage while getting an answer at least on file to help you avoid default.
If you need legal representation in Oklahoma, contact me at Shelton Walkley Mackey for a consultation. 405-605-8800 Or visit our website www.sheltonlawok.com.