A lawsuit begins when a Plaintiff (the party bringing a lawsuit) files a Complaint, which is a document that outlines the Plaintiff’s case. The Complaint must then be served on the Defendant, who is the party being sued (in this case you). Service means that the Complaint is formally delivered to the party being sued by a licensed process server. In some situations there are alternative ways to make service.
Once you are served, a clock starts ticking, which is the amount of time you have to make an appearance in the case and defend your interests. How much time you have to appear and defend depends on the jurisdiction and the Court. In Florida, for example, in state court the time to appear and defend is twenty (20) days.
As soon as you are served, you should hire an attorney to review the Complaint, to advise you of your rights, and to appear in the case on your behalf. The response time is fairly short, so you should retain counsel right away. Technically you can represent yourself in court, but that is highly inadvisable.
Also, keep in mind that hiring an attorney alone is not enough. Your attorney actually needs to make filings in the case on your behalf.
It is generally not advisable to contact the attorney who filed the case yourself, because that can lead to misunderstandings where you might, for example, believe you have somehow been excused from needing to make a filing, when that is not accurate.
If you do not timely respond to the Complaint, a default may be entered against you, followed by a default judgment. This means that you have lost the case and the Plaintiff will then be able to try to collect from you. There sometimes are ways to attempt to set a default aside, or to appeal it, which your attorney can explain to you. But you do not want a default to be entered in the first place. So act promptly and make sure your rights are protected.
There are additional things you can do to assist your attorney in defending you. First, be sure to give the attorney a copy of everything you were served with. There should be a summons and a Complaint. Sometimes there are discovery requests (that ask you to provide documents or answer questions). Your attorney needs all of these documents. Sometimes service will not have been done properly, which is an issue you can discuss with your counsel.
Second, it will help if you gather all documents that have anything to do with what you are being sued about. This includes paper documents and electric ones, such as e-mails and texts. You have a duty to preserve the evidence in the case that is in your possession. So be sure not to discard anything.
If you work for a company, and that company is one of the defendants in the case, be sure to let the company’s attorney or one of its officers know about the lawsuit right away.
The Law Office of Alexis Gonzalez is highly experienced at handling litigation, and invites you to contact us to discuss any case that has been filed against you. We can take action to defend you.