I’ve Been Sued. Now What?

Business Insights

I’ve Been Sued. Now What?

May 24, 2024 | Business Insights

Receiving notice that you or your business have been sued can be a daunting experience. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, angry, or scared, but it’s crucial to approach the situation methodically and with a clear mind. This blog will guide you through the essential steps to take when after being served with a lawsuit, helping you to navigate the legal process effectively.

1. Review the Complaint Carefully

A Complaint is the document that initiates the lawsuit, outlining the plaintiff’s allegations and the relief they seek. Carefully read through the Complaint to understand the specific claims against you. Look for:

  • The names of the parties involved
  • The specific allegations or causes of action
  • The relief or damages being sought

Understanding these elements is crucial as it will guide your next steps and the urgency with which you need to act.

A Complaint is accompanied by a “summons,” which provides information regarding the lawsuit and deadlines to respond. The deadline to respond may vary by jurisdiction and the manner in which you were served.

2. Seek Legal Advice Immediately

One of the most important steps you can take is to consult with a qualified attorney. Look for a lawyer who specializes in civil and commercial litigation. They will help you understand the legal jargon, evaluate the strength of the case against you, and develop a strategy for your defense and any possible counterclaims.

To find the right attorney, consider:

  • Asking for recommendations from trusted sources
  • Checking online reviews and credentials
  • Scheduling initial consultations to gauge their experience and approach

During your consultation, be prepared to discuss the details of your case and bring any relevant documents. It can also be helpful to develop an appropriate timeline to highlight the salient events leading up to the lawsuit.

3. Preserve Relevant Documents and Evidence

Preserving evidence is important. Gather and secure all documents related to the case, such as:

  • Contracts and agreements
  • Emails, text messages, and correspondence
  • Financial records
  • Any other documents that might be relevant

Avoid deleting or altering any potential evidence, as this can lead to serious legal consequences and may harm your defense.

4. Respond to the Complaint

You must respond to the Complaint within the specified deadline, usually 20 to 30 days from when you receive it. There are many ways to respond to a Complaint, and the specific responses will be governed by the jurisdiction you have been sued in. Only by way of example, and without limitation, some possible ways to respond include filing the following:

  • Answer: Address each allegation in the complaint, admitting or denying them.
  • Motion to Dismiss, or a “Demurrer”: A legal argument that the allegations in the Complaint are legally insufficient to state a claim against you regardless of whether the factual allegations are true.
  • Plea in Bar: A defensive pleading seeking to dismiss a claim on a specific legal basis on a discrete set of facts, which may or may not be in the Complaint.
  • Motion Craving Oyer: A motion seeking to attach a contract or legal document to the Complaint which forms the basis of the Plaintiff’s claim, but which is not already attached to the Complaint.
  • Counterclaim: File a claim against the plaintiff if you believe they have wronged you.

The responsive pleading you decide to file will be based on the specific facts and circumstances of your case as well as your goals in the litigation.

5. Consider Possible Settlement Options

Litigation can be lengthy and expensive. Settlement or forms of alternative dispute resolution (arbitration or mediation) offers an substitute to trial that can save time and money. Evaluate the potential benefits and drawbacks of settling versus going to court.

During settlement negotiations, consider:

  • The likelihood of winning the case
  • The potential costs of continued litigation
  • The impact on your business or personal life
  • Confidentiality, non-disparagement, or other non-monetary terms that may be important to you or your business

Your attorney can negotiate on your behalf to achieve a fair settlement.

6. Prepare for Litigation

In the event the matter does not settle or otherwise resolved, you will need to prepare for trial. This involves:

  • Written Discovery: Answering interrogatories (written questions under oath), producing documents relevant to the case, and responding to requests for admissions with the other party.
  • Depositions: Answering questions orally, under oath regarding the case. A deposition may be in-person or virtual and may be video-taped.
  • Pre-Trial Motions: Addressing any preliminary issues before trial, which may include motions for summary judgment, motions in limine, or a series of other types of motions aimed at narrowing the issues for trial.
  • Trial Preparation: There is a lot of time and effort required to get ready for trial, such as witness preparation, review of exhibits, analysis of legal arguments, preparing for a jury (if applicable), and generally getting everything set for trial.

Work closely with your attorney to gather evidence, prepare witnesses, and develop your legal arguments.

7. Maintain Communication with Your Attorney

Regular communication with your attorney is vital. Keep them informed of any new developments and provide the requested information promptly. Understand their role and trust their expertise, but also stay engaged in your case.

While communicating with your attorney is important, it is equally important to limit communications with third parties while your matter is pending because such communications could be “discoverable.” A good rule of thumb is not to say anything to a third-party that you would not want repeated to a judge or jury in Court.

8. Conclusion

Facing a lawsuit is undoubtedly stressful, but taking informed and proactive steps can help manage the situation effectively. Stay calm take a deep breath and seek legal advice. Whether you settle or go to trial, preparation and communication with your attorney are key. By following these steps, you can navigate the legal process with greater confidence and protect your interests.

If you are being sued, please contact Stephen Caruso at (703) 284-7242 or scaruso@beankinney.com. Our firm practices in Virginia and the District of Columbia in addition to various other jurisdictions.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not contain or convey legal advice. Consult a lawyer. Any views or opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily the views of any client.

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