WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE’VE BEEN SUED?! First in a Series of Six Articles

Well, it has been a pretty good week. You have been busy landing an exciting new business opportunity. You have been working long hours on it and are ready to celebrate. Suddenly, the Sheriff appears in your lobby to serve a summons and complaint on your company. In the blink of an eye, you have gone from elation to being so mad you cannot see straight. It turns out your company has been sued.

In this series of articles, we will talk about the things that need to be done in the very first hours and days after a lawsuit has been served on your company. How you react, how quickly you react, and how carefully you react may make a big difference in the outcome.

While it seems mundane, I am surprised at how frequently the most important first step is overlooked by clients. It is extremely important to preserve, as closely as possible, the time, day, and manner in which the lawsuit was served upon you. Critical deadlines run from the time you were served. Noting these details and preserving all the paper, including any envelopes you receive with the lawsuit (you may have been served by mail), is vitally important. Your lawyer will need them.

A lawsuit is initiated by the filing of a complaint and summons with the court andthe documents being properly served upon you. The complaint will outline what it is that the plaintiff believes that your company has done that warrants legal relief being granted. Your first instinct will be to read that document and immediately jump in to disputing or otherwise defending the allegations. But right this minute, it is the wrong document to look at. You want to look at the summons, which is usually a one- or two-page document served with the complaint. The summons has extremely important information. It tells you exactly where you have been sued and in what court. It tells you who are the parties to the lawsuit. It tells you the cause number, which will be extremely important in connection with all future filings in the matter. But most importantly, it will tell you when your answer, or other responsive pleading, is due. Depending on where you are sued, this can generally range from anywhere from 20 days to up to 60. Note that date. Calendar it internally. The way to count the days is to exclude the day you are served and count beginning with the next day. This will allow you to monitor internally whether or not the proper steps are being taken to defend the suit.

Remember this -- If you are properly served and fail to respond within the deadline, a judgment may be rendered against you even if you had valid defenses to the complaint.

In our next article, we will move on down the list of things to do.