Getting a legal document with your name on it can be scary. It is important to read the document carefully. If you understand the gist of what is asserted against you, you can then figure out your rights, duties, and responsibilities related to this matter. After you have a general understanding of the issues, you will become less anxious and begin to think clearly and rationally.
In this short guide, I’ll provide with a general framework of how to prepare and what to do.
Different types of legal documents and letters
It’s important to understand the different types of legal documents since not all require the same attention.
If you have received a demand letter, It is not a lawsuit, but an attempt to resolve the matter out court prior to a court action. You are not required to respond to a demand letter. However, some consumer statutes require a response to a demand letter within 30 days, and could carry penalties such as triple damages and attorneys fees if the other party prevails in a court action later.
A pre-suit notice letter on the other hand is a proceeding by a party or parties against another in the civil court of law. if you ignore this one, you can sometimes enter an automatic judgment against you, known as a default judgement.
What steps should you take?
First you should read the complaint or demand letter carefully so you fully understand the allegations against you. Then, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.
Do not share any information about the complaint with anyone but your attorney.
Should you contact your insurance company?
If you are insured, it’s best to notify the insurance company as soon as possible. You or your attorney should send the insurer a Notice of Loss; a brief statement specifying the damages or injuries for which you are seeking insurance. Then the insurance company will determine whether the loss claimed is covered by the insurance policy and its limits.
Are there things to avoid doing?
It is important to keep as calm as possible so that you make rational decisions, keep all information confidential, and let your lawyer handle all communication with the Plaintiff and insurance companies. Never publish any case-related information on any social media.
How quickly should you react when sued?
Civil lawsuits work on strict timetables governed by the rules of civil procedure. For example, Defendant’s usually have twenty (20) days to respond to a complaint with an answer. If you do not respond to the complaint and all the other correspondence/pleadings sent by the Plaintiff in a timely manner, you could face penalties ranging from court sanctions to a default judgment.
It is critical that you check the date you received the complaint so that you know exactly how many days you have to respond. You should send all your responses, answers, and counter-claims to the Plaintiff by certified mail with return receipt so that your can produce a paper-trail showing your compliance with civil procedure time requirements.