Knock, knock! The Sheriff shows up at your door and hands you papers. “You’re being sued,” he quietly explains, and perhaps asks you to sign something noting you were served. As you close the door behind you, a number of thoughts may drift through your head. Questions, frustrations and bad ideas abound—but what should you do first? And more importantly, what should you not do first?
(By the way, sheriffs aren’t the only way you can be served, so if you’re not sure if you’ve been sued, call Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your situation.) For those served, here are six things that you should and shouldn’t do when served with a complaint.
1. DON’T post about it on social media.
The first thing you definitely should not do is post on social media that you have been sued. Do not post about what happened. Do not post about the conflict that you have with the other guy. Don’t post negative things about the company/neighbor/business partner/soon-to-be-ex who filed this frivolous/outrageous/immoral complaint. Anything that you say can be used against you in a court of law—especially on social media.
When you post things publicly it is very difficult to predict how they can come back to get you in the future. It may feel good in the moment to pop off and say something, but the consequences to that decision can be significant. Accordingly, we strongly recommend against making public statements upon being served with a lawsuit.
2. DON’T call the person or lash out at them directly.
In a similar vein, calling the person, Facebooking them, or sending them a message, email or text are all bad ideas. Doing so can only be used against you in a court of law and cannot benefit you in any real way. In addition, doing so will give the adverse party the satisfaction of knowing they have gotten under your skin by suing you. Simply put, it is best to keep your frustrations to yourself when you have been sued.
3. DO begin gathering evidence to bolster your defense.
This one might seem obvious, but when you have been sued, you will need evidence to defend yourself. This means putting together all of the documents, emails, contracts and other papers and information that you have in your possession from the beginning of the conflict until now. If you are not totally sure how the conflict arose, read the complaint carefully and begin looking through your own calendar, matching up dates and times. Begin building a log of what you remember of what happened and when so that when you meet with your lawyer you can provide helpful and substantial information in your defense.
Lawsuits require that both sides be prepared to hand over significant information to the other side or the court when asked. Gathering that information and beginning to think about where relevant data may be stored will make you less stressed when given a short timetable to produce vast amounts of relevant information.
4. DON’T panic (and DO breathe).
Look, we understand. Really, we do. There is almost nothing in life more stressful than being sued. But panicking does not help anything. In fact, as research has shown repeatedly, panic can cause the brain to make very foolish decisions and can impair your ability to do higher level reasoning.
But telling you not to panic may not help you all that much. (“Great, now I’m panicking about panicking.”) So here’s a practical tip: try not to think about what the other side is going to do and what you are going to do in response. At first, it’s important to focus on the next step, which is finding good counsel and preparing your answer.
Lawsuits are a marathon, not a sprint. Try to train for them with that in mind. Just like running a race, you need to breathe and focus on each step, not dream about the finished line.
5. DO read the complaint that was served on you.
It is extremely important that you take the time to read the complaint (this is what the Sheriff handed you at the beginning). Carefully consider what has been said against you by the Plaintiff (the person suing you). Try to think about the situation objectively from all angles. Begin to go through and make handwritten notes on a separate sheet of paper about which allegations are true and which are false.
That’s right, in every complaint there are some allegations against you that will be true, even as simple as the spelling of your name or the fact that you had a contract with someone. What you are denying is what is most important. Sometimes, an answer to a complaint might mean answering 29 out of 30 paragraphs with “Admitted,” but then denying the crucial paragraph that has the fact that is not true. Accordingly, look through the complaint and try to get a good handle on what is true and what is not true. This will help when you meet with your lawyer.
6. DO call a lawyer.
It is absolutely vital when you have been sued that you call an experienced civil litigation attorney. Call someone who has the ability to walk you through the complaint and explain your options about filing preliminary objections or an answer (or a 12b6 motion in Federal Court). Getting an attorney who can walk you through your procedural and strategic options will go a long way to helping you get a better outcome in your case.
Conclusion: Contact Cornerstone Law Firm today if you have been sued.
If you have been sued, it is important to get legal help. Our attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm, LLC are ready and able to help you. Call us today for a consultation so that we can walk through your case and understand your situation more thoroughly.