What to Do When You Are Served with a Lawsuit

Jeffrey R. Schmitt

By Jeffrey R. Schmitt

For many individuals and businesses, being served with a lawsuit is an uncommon, or possibly even a once-in-a-lifetime, situation. Litigation can be stressful and being served with a lawsuit is often surprising as well.  However, in all situations when you or your business is served with a lawsuit, there are three simple, basic steps to best preserve your rights and protect yourself from the outset.

  1. Make Some Quick Notes

Often, as a result of the frustration or surprise associated with being served with a lawsuit, most people don’t pay attention to the details of how they were served. These details can be very important. There are specific rules and procedures about proper service of lawsuits, depending on the type of lawsuit and the court.

Take a few minutes to jot down notes related to the service. Specifically, identify the date and time of service, the manner of service including whether a sheriff or process server handed you papers or if the lawsuit was received by first-class or certified mail, and the recipient of those papers. These may be important facts for your attorney to know in determining whether or not service was proper and if you should contest service as a result.

Also, don’t assume that service is improper without getting legal advice. In some instances, service by mail or serving papers on your 16 year old son or daughter when you are not home can be proper service.

  1. Read the Summons and Other Documents

Depending on the nature of the lawsuit or the court where the lawsuit is pending, there are different rules about how to respond to it. While many types of lawsuits and courts require that you file a written response within a certain period of time (often 30 days), some courts give you more time than that.  Additionally, some courts require that you actually come to court in person, as opposed to, or in addition to, filing a written response. Sometimes, these required court dates could actually be only a week or two away.

It is also important to read the papers in order to identify who the named defendants are and if they include you, personally, or a business, and, if so, to make sure the business is named correctly.  Most courts do not allow businesses to represent themselves, so it is crucial to identify who the defendants are and determine if they need attorneys to represent them in court. The documents served with the lawsuit may also provide you additional information related to the address of the courthouse, the name of the judge, your rights to make a jury demand, or alternative dispute resolution options.

  1. Contact Your Insurance Agent or Broker

In addition to contacting your attorney after being served with a lawsuit, it may also be important to reach out to your insurance agent or broker to determine if there is any coverage for the claim that’s made against you or your company.  Different insurance policies provide coverage for different types of claims.

Even if the claim is not covered, in some instances insurance companies may provide a defense for you. It is also important to notify your insurance carrier so they are aware of the lawsuit. Claims against you or your company may change during the course of the lawsuit and those changes invoke insurance coverage at a later date. Contacting your agent or broker quickly is crucial to make sure that the insurance company and any lawyers hired by the insurance company have sufficient time to evaluate and respond to the claims.

Posted by Attorney Jeffrey R. Schmitt. Schmitt represents businesses and individuals in commercial litigation matters including banking and finance, real estate, condo and homeowners associations, professional liability defense, title disputes, transportation, and pension and retirement plans.


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