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 #142 What to do if you are sued

mp3 #142 What Should You Do If You Have Been Sued? (mp3 file)


You may have been sued or you may be expecting a suit. If so, you may be wondering what to do when you are served with legal papers.

A lawsuit begins when someone files a document in court known as a complaint or petition. The next step is to give you, the defendant or respondent, a copy of the complaint or petition and a copy of a document called a summons. When someone gives a defendant a summons and complaint, the court calls it service of process. The person who makes the delivery is called a process server. The sheriff, a marshal, or any adult person who is a citizen of the United States can be a process server.

The summons is written in both English and Spanish. It tells you how many days you have in which to file your answer or response. If·you do not file an answer or response within that time limit, the plaintiff or petitioner hay proceed with the lawsuit anyway. The plaintiff will enter your default and try to prove his case. The court will not be able to hear your defense.

If you do not answer or respond to the legal papers served on you, you may not even know the date and time of the court hearing against you.

The usual time limit for answering a lawsuit is 30 days. The court may extend this time, if you ask them to before the end of the 30 days, and if you have a good reason. The time limit for a suit to recover possession of land or a home is 5 days. Such a lawsuit is called a suit for unlawful detainer. A response to that kind of action must of course be very prompt. Sometimes other hearings will require earlier action on your part.

Your response or answer must be carefully worded, so that all of your defenses may be presented in court. If you have a defense which you do not tell about in your answer, the court may refuse to allow you to present that defense at the trial.

At the same time when you file your answer, you may wish to file a cross-complaint. A cross-complaint is just like a complaint or petition, but it is filed by the defendant. All of the rules for complaints must be followed for a cross-complaint. The cross-complaint will state your reasons why you should receive damages or other relief from the plaintiff or other persons you believe are responsible for the damages claimed in the plaintiff’s complaint. Any persons, including the plaintiff, named in your cross-complaint are called cross-defendants, and must be properly served with the cross-complaint. They then must answer your cross-complaint within the same time limit that you had.

All of these rules for filing and serving legal documents are made so that everyone will know what is going on, and so that everyone will know the charges are against him.

Certain defenses may be good ones, but you may not know about them. For example, the plaintiff may have sued you too late, or too long after the incident which he is complaining about. The failure to sue within the proper time limit is a valid defense. There are many such defenses which lawyers are trained to know. If you have been sued, you should consult a lawyer to learn all of the defenses available to you. A lawyer can help you take advantage of your rights. By failing to claim your rights in an answer, or other court documents you may give them up forever.

Depending on what statements are made in the complaint, the first person you should contact after receiving your summons and complaint may be your insurance agent or insurance company. If the lawsuit involves an automobile accident, consult your automobile insurance carrier. If someone is injured on your property and sues you for damages, contact the company which issued your homeowner's policy.

In any case involving negligence, check with your general liability insurance carrier.

Most general liability insurance policies provide not only a defense for you in court against lawsuits based on negligence, but they also provide for any judgment of negotiation of a settlement on your behalf, up to the financial limit of your insurance policy. And even when the judgment against you is not covered by your policy, such as when you breach a contract or you commit an intentional wrong, your insurance company may still provide you with a legal defense.

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