What would you do if you received notice that you were being sued? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you’re not alone. Most people do not know what a “summons and complaint” is much less what to do with it.
Being sued can be stressful but, as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so concisely says, “DON’T PANIC.” I find that most clients feel much better once they understand the process. With that in mind, here are a few of the steps of litigation:
Filing an Answer
First, you will need to file with the court an answer to the complaint. The answer should also include any counter-claim and affirmative defenses. Your answer must be filed within as little as twenty days, depending on the court, from the date that you receive the complaint.
While the complaint sets forward the plaintiff’s claims, the answer is the defendant’s denial or admission of those claims. Contact an attorney as soon as possible so that we may discuss your options, before those options run out. Failure to respond in a timely manner will likely result in the court giving the plaintiff whatever the plaintiff requested. DO NOT IGNORE A COMPLAINT!
Discovery and Negotiations
Once an answer is filed, the discovery phase begins. The greatest portion of time is spent in this phase. A trial may not occur for months or even years after a complaint is filed, but that does not mean that nothing is happening. Discovery is how the parties learn details about each other’s arguments. In discovery, each side may request documents and demand answers to questions both in writing and in person.
Before trial, the parties will also likely be involved in various types of negotiations (mediation, facilitation, arbitration) designed to encourage settling the case out of court. Most cases will also likely involve one or all parties attempting to avoid a trial by filing what is called a “motion to dismiss” or “motion for summary disposition,” depending on the court. These are documents filed with the court that request an early ruling that the other side loses their case without having a trial. Between settlement negotiations and motions to dismiss…
MOST CASES GET RESOLVED BEFORE TRIAL.
Trial and After Trial
If the settlement negotiations and motions fail, there will be a trial. Although it may not be exactly like what you see in movies or television, at trial, each party will be given an opportunity to make its case through witnesses and documents.
Once the trial is completed, a judgment will be entered that resolves the case before the trial court. However, that is not always the end of the matter. Either party may appeal the judgment to a higher court. Further, even if an appeal is not filed, there are still additional steps that will need to be taken to enforce the judgment.
While being sued is not anyone’s idea of fun, it is certainly not the end of the world. There are numerous steps before anything will be decided. We can lead you through the process and help you figure out your options.