In these challenging economic times, businesses are facing more legal problems than ever. In order to protect your business and its assets, it is important that you take immediate and proper action when served with a summons and complaint. Delaying or ignoring the problem will wind up being costly and detrimental to your business in the long run. Here are a few tips on steps to take after you have been served with a lawsuit.
Step 1: Read the summons and complaint carefully. The time frames for when your response is due to the Court vary depending on the type of case it is and the Court where the case is pending. The summons will tell you how you need to respond and when your response is due.
Step 2: Contact your insurer(s) immediately. While not all cases are covered by the various insurance policies that your company may have, many will be. Find out what your insurance carrier's notification requirements are and be sure to follow them. If you don't know, sending a letter via certified mail is always a safe bet. If you are not sure whether or not the lawsuit is covered by your insurance, send a notice of claim to the carrier to preserve your rights.
Step 3: Contact an attorney immediately. Your insurance company may provide you with an attorney, but if it does not you should hire one on your own. You need to be sure that you contact an attorney early enough in the process to give the attorney adequate time to respond to the summons and complaint within the required filing deadline. If you do not respond to the summons and complaint in a timely manner, a default judgment could be entered against you. This means that you will have been found responsible for the case without having an opportunity to present your side of things.
Step 4: Stop talking about the case. Unless you are talking to your attorney, chances are that the conversation you are having about the case is potentially admissible in Court. Ranting emails to co-workers about a former employee's lawsuit can hurt you later on in the litigation. The best practice is not to speak with anyone about the case except for your attorney or at your attorney's direction.
Step 5: Preserve any and all evidence. You have an obligation to preserve any and all evidence related to the lawsuit. This includes email messages, documents, pictures, contracts, calendars, voicemail messages, letters, etc. This includes any evidence that may be harmful to your case - the repercussions will be worse if it comes out later that you concealed or destroyed evidence.
Step 6: Evaluate your case. Meet with your attorney early on to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your case, potential outcomes and expected costs. The vast majority of lawsuits end in a settlement prior to trial. Discuss settlement and alternative dispute resolution options with your attorney early as it may save you time, money and the stress of protracted litigation.
Step 7: Remain Calm. Lawsuits can be stressful, but it is important that you keep a level head and have reasonable expectations about the case. Lawsuits take time, sometimes years, so don't expect that the matter will be resolved in a few weeks. Establish a relationship with an attorney that you trust and let the attorney do the worrying for you while you focus your energy on growing your business.