I get a lot of calls that start off something like this, “Someone banged on my door last night and then handed me a legal-looking letter. The court file number is blank so I can ignore it, right?” I usually then ask them if it is two documents with the words “SUMMONS” and “COMPLAINT“ on them. Once they say yes, I tell the caller they just got served with a lawsuit and that it would be best to not ignore it.
In Minnesota, unlike most other states, an attorney can start a lawsuit without going to the courthouse and filing it there first.
As a result, there will not be a court file number on the initial legal documents they got (pleadings)–YET. Nonetheless, and as long as it is a typical civil state court action, the caller (now a “Defendant“) must serve a written answer to the allegations in the Complaint within 20 days. If they don’t, the person or business suing them can obtain a default judgment from the Court for the full amount of money requested in the Complaint. This is not good and can result in garnishment of wages, seizure of non-exempt property and levying on personal bank accounts.
After the caller/Defendant calms down, I usually ask them to e-mail or fax me a copy of the Complaint so I can see what the case is about. Depending on the nature of the case, I then usually say they want to contact their insurance companies right away and see if the insurer will provide coverage for the claim, and perhaps more importantly, provide them with an attorney to defend the case. If not, I am more than happy to help.
Some of the most important things I tell the Defendant (hopefully my new client) to do right away is to not talk about the case to anyone until they can meet with me first. If we do meet, initially we will discuss the details the case so I gauge how much, if any, potential liability they may be facing and what options may be available to us for resolving the case.
I always ask that the client gather up all documents that in may relate to the allegations in the Complaint and the whole case, to get me copies of the documents ASAP and to not throw anything away. I also ask the client to get me copies of any e-mails related to the case and stress that it is extremely important that they do not delete any e-mails or other electronic information on their computers. I always explain that if any related computer files are deleted or modified (even if done for completely innocent reasons), it could be very harmful to the case. In these situations it is not unusual for the Plaintiff’s lawyer to find out and inform the Court about it. If that is the case, the Court could wind up seeing the deletion of computer data (or any other evidence) in a negative light and hold the client responsible for destroying evidence.
If I am hired to defend the case, I am always completely honest about the risks and costs potentially involved and I insist that my new client be fully honest with me too. After all, I can not do my job and properly defend the case unless I know everything that went on before they were sued. Litigation can be grueling and, more often than not, any secrets that are not disclosed to me about the case at the beginning can come back to haunt the client before their case is over.
So basically, the most important things to remember if you get sued are to act quickly in contacting your insurer and/or finding a lawyer to defend you. Remember to keep your mouth shut about the case and gather up and preserve all documents (whether on paper or in your computer) related to the case. And always be completely honest with your attorney and tell them everything that led up to the lawsuit.
Getting sued won’t be the end of the world, and if you take these simple first steps, the case will go much smoother for you. Keep in mind there are many ways to resolve a legitimate case through settlement, mediation and other ways. Likewise, cases that are not legitimate may be subject to dismissal.
No matter what your case is about, you are entitled to a vigorous, strong and aggressive defense. Since the Plaintiff started the litigation, I make sure they have to prove it. If you are sued, please keep me in mind if you need an attorney that will protect your rights with zeal and compassion, while always trying to find the most favorable way to get the case over with.