What to do when a Process Server Serves You with a Lawsuit

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A Lady Justice statue holding some scales

What happens if a process server shows up at your house? In Pennsylvania, this is usually a sheriff. Sometimes, if you’re in federal court, it can be a private party who shows up and serves you with some paperwork. To watch a brief video by a Pennsylvania civil lawyer, click below. Or read on for more information.

When you’re served with a lawsuit, this is the formal notification that you are “on the clock” to respond. The time is ticking now for you to answer the Complaint. The deadlines in your case run from when you are served with the Complaint (rather than from when the Complaint was filed with the Court.

Some defendants foolishly believe they have as much time as they want to answer. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s vital to get your lawsuit to an attorney early to get advice on how to respond.

How long do you have to answer a lawsuit?

Depending on the cause of action, state court will allow roughly 30 days to answer that complaint. The Complaint comes with a “Notice to Defend” warning you that you have 20 days to respond. Pennsylvania’s Rules of Civil Procedure provide that defendants “in default” (that is, who have not answered after 20 days), are permitted another 10 days to answer.

In Federal Court, you have 21 days to answer after you are served. In many cases, you’ll have the opportunity to “waive service” in exchange for a 60 day time frame to serve. If you don’t, you can end up responsible for service costs.

What if the lawsuit is frivolous?

Just because someone is suing you doesn’t mean they’re actually entitled to anything. The law permits anyone to file anything—regardless of whether they have a claim. While they may be subject to sanctions if the lawsuit is entirely frivolous, you should never assume that the lawsuit will be “dismissed” by a judge if you don’t answer. The opposite is true: lawsuits that are not answered end up in judgment against the defendant, no questions asked. In short, you need to answer right away!

What are my options when served?

You typically have two options when served. You can either answer the Complaint (going through, paragraph by paragraph, and answering whether you admit or deny allegations), or you can “move to dismiss” on a legal ground, such as lack of jurisdiction, improper service, demurrer or some other legal ground. In a Motion to Dismiss, you’ll need to accept all the facts in the Complaint as true for purposes of your Motion, and you’ll need to lay out your legal grounds for dismissal.

It’s important to be careful in answering a Complaint. Doing so waives certain defenses forever. It can also subject you to jurisdiction where you were not previously subject to jurisdiction. And under Pennsylvania law, answering “Denied,” can actually mean “Admitted” due to the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure in some situations.

Call Cornerstone Law Firm for help with your lawsuit.

If you’ve been served with a lawsuit, talk to a professional immediately. Call a lawyer and talk to them about your options. You’ll need to decide whether you’re going to answer the Complaint or file a Motion to Dismiss. Which of these you should do is going to depend on the type of lawsuit with which you’ve been served. It’s also going to depend on what you think your options are in countersuing or bringing up defenses.

While you are given the right to represent yourself in Court, it’s better to have an experienced attorney by your side. An attorney will keep you informed about your rights, help you to compile evidence and create a defense, and bring the lawsuit to trial should the need arise.

If you’ve been served with a lawsuit, don’t wait. Call Cornerstone Law Firm right away and make sure you get working on how you’re going to respond.

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