YOU'VE BEEN SERVED: 6 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF WHEN FACED WITH A LAWSUIT
Whether you're a small-business owner or just minding your own business, "you've been sued" are probably words you never want to hear. However, for business owners, studies show that being sued is less a question of "if" than "when." A study of small-businesses found that 36 to 53 percent of small businesses are engaged in some form of litigation on any given year. So with this in mind, here are 6 questions to ask yourself when faced with a lawsuit.
1. How should I react?
Being sued can lead to a range of emotions-shock, anger, indignation, and often stress. The key, however, is to respond strategically, rather than emotionally. Seeking both legal and emotional support will help you deal with any lawsuit-induced anxiety.
Many people dealing with lawsuits describe anxiety associated with having to give up control and put the lawsuit in the hands of lawyers and legal counsel. If you hire an attorney, remain involved in the lawsuit, but also trust their counsel. Be helpful and forthcoming, and get educated on the legal process.
2. How long do I have to respond?
When you're served, you should be given two documents-the summons and the complaint. The summons notifies you that you've been sued, and how long you have to serve an "answer," or a response to the complaint. Understanding the time constraints of the lawsuit is absolutely crucial. If you fail to file in that time, the judge may grant a default judgment, where the other party gets what they want without you getting a word in edgewise. In Utah, you have 21 days to file and answer.
3. Where have I been sued?
The summons will also tell you where you've been sued. Where you've been sued should always be a factor in deciding how you deal with the lawsuit. Being sued out-of-state means you need to understand that state's deadlines, and may even need to arrange travel to appear there in person.
4. Why have I been sued?
Now this is the question you've probably asked yourself already-what are they suing me for? The complaint is where you'll find out the other party's reasons for bringing suit. The complaint will likely include a "statement of claims," outlining the exact allegations involved. You can admit or deny these claims when you file a response.
5. How much damage?
Finally-what do they want? The complaint should have a section entitled "Demand for Relief" that shows what they want out of the lawsuit. Keep in mind that this is likely not the only costs you will incur in the course of the suit-attorneys' fees, filing fees, copying fees, etc. can all add up. The potential amount of damages should guide your strategy (i.e. how much money you want to devote) and determine your next steps.
6. What are my next steps?
There are many different ways to respond to a lawsuit. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may want to move your suit to another court ("venue"), or motion to dismiss the action completely. However, the most common response is to file an "answer" to the complaint. Seeking legal advice will help you determine what course of action to take and help you successfully navigate the experience.