While no one welcomes the sheriff arriving to serve you with a summons and complaint, or the dreaded certified mailing containing a lawsuit, there are a few steps you need to follow if you are served with a lawsuit. Don’t panic. Easy for me to say if I am not the named defendant, right? I certainly understand that getting sued is a particularly stressful time for clients. I hope this article will eliminate some of those worries, but also give you a framework in the event you find yourself or your business below the “vs” line in a legal proceeding.
First and foremost, understand that you have a deadline to respond. This requires you to take immediate action. Ignoring a lawsuit does not make it go away. In fact, just the opposite can happen: a default can be entered against you. If you potentially have insurance coverage for the lawsuit, report the lawsuit immediately to your carrier. Hopefully, they are already on notice of a potential claim if you were aware of the incident. If you do not have insurance coverage for the claim, you likely need to hire counsel. I do not recommend non-attorneys navigate the legal system alone. If your rights are at stake, and they likely are if you have been sued, you need to confer with counsel and likely secure representation.
Second, avoid talking about the lawsuit with others. Only under a few exceptions would those conversations be privileged and protected from discovery. Go about your normal day as you typically would. Do not discuss the case with anyone but your claims adjuster and/or lawyer, or necessary employees at your business that need the information (such as risk personnel or those in upper level management who will be involved with the lawsuit).
Third, maintain any and all documents that may be relevant to the case. For example, make sure you have security footage pulled and backed up and that any memorandums or writings are kept in a safe place. Once you receive the lawsuit, there is no question you are on formal notice of a claim. Failing to safe guard evidence at that point can give rise to a jury instruction that it is to be assumed the documents would have been hurtful to your case. Keep the evidence.
Fourth, listen to and cooperate with your attorney. Hire someone you are comfortable with and with whom you feel confident to handle your case. Ask about the attorney’s experience similar cases, how often they defend similar business/industries, and how they plan to handle your case.
No one wants to get sued. Lawsuits can be stressful for all parties. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of a claim being made against you or your business, stay calm, but take immediate action to protect your legal rights.
This does not constitute legal advice. Please seek counsel from a legal professional to assess your specific situation.
Deedee Gasch has over a decade of experience litigating catastrophic claims involving serious injury or death. While Deedee’s practice is primarily focused on the defense of premises liability, trucking and commercial vehicle accidents, and medical malpractice, she also has a wide range of civil litigation experience. She spent approximately half of her career representing injured plaintiffs before returning to her first love of civil litigation defense work. This experience on both sides of a case uniquely situates her in negotiations and at trial if settlement is not possible. Deedee is a third-generation Tar Heel and attorney, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, a North Carolina Resident Superior Court Judge (deceased), and her father, a career trial lawyer. She has dual degrees in Journalism and Political Science and earned her law degree cum laude from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Florida, where she attended on a prestigious merit based scholarship. She is licensed to practice law in both North Carolina and Florida.
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