The First Five Things To Do After Being Sued

Receiving a summons or complaint in the mail can be nerve-racking and stressful. Whether you were recently involved in an accident or you are a physician who lost a patient in the operating room, receiving notification of a lawsuit is never an enjoyable activity.  However, most Americans will have some interaction with the legal system during their lives.  Knowing what to do if (or when) you are sued can provide some peace of mind.

1. Contact a lawyer and your insurance company 

This one seems obvious and is at the top of any list regarding legal matters.  However, sometimes individuals assume their insurance company has already received copies of legal documents and presume they will be automatically contacted by their insurance company or legal counsel.  This may be true some of the time, but a proactive approach is better.  Also, your homeowner’s insurance company or auto insurance company will sometimes provide legal counsel to individuals under certain circumstances.  Even if the claim falls outside the individual’s policy, the homeowner can have the peace of mind they have complied with any notification requirement under their policy.   

2. Know your deadlines  

Most summonses and complaints have a corresponding deadline to respond.  This deadline may be as short as 15-20 days.  While some legal documents you receive will advise you of the deadline to respond, it may take legal expertise to know how the deadline is calculated.  It is important to act quickly and consult with someone who can assist you in calculating any immediate deadlines.     

3. Preserve relevant documents

Preservation of relevant documents and electronically stored information (and equipment, property, products, etc.) is important because a party who destroys evidence (or allows evidence to be destroyed or deleted) may be sanctioned for spoliation of evidence.  Depending on the severity of spoliation, sanctions may include an adverse inference instruction to the jury (i.e. the jury may be instructed to assume the documents were harmful to the party who destroyed them).  Spoliation of evidence (whether it is accidental or through an automated electronic retention policy) may significantly impair your chances of successfully defending an otherwise defensible claim. 

4. Know the rules

Every lawsuit will have a corresponding set of rules and guidelines that govern the case.  These rules are often dependent on the venue or court where the case is pending.  For instance, a medical malpractice case filed with the Indiana Department of Insurance may have applicable administrative rules through the Department of Insurance, governing rules involving the Indiana Rules of Trial Procedure, and structural guidelines from the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act.  Most counties in the State of Indiana have their own “local trial rules,” and most townships have their own local rules for small claims cases.  Simply knowing the rules (or where to find the rules) will provide you an advantage in successfully defending a case.   

5. Make a plan and prepare to be patient

Successfully defending a case is rarely a quick and simple process.  The key to any successful defense is to have a plan and be agile enough to respond to the tactics of the opposing party.  Also, exercising the virtue of patience and having realistic expectations for the duration of a lawsuit will reduce the amount of stress caused by the lawsuit.  For instance, a medical malpractice claim may last 2-10 years from inception to conclusion.  If a party wakes up every morning worried about their case, such stress will become overwhelming and detrimental to their health.  While complete disinterest is not advisable either, a healthy balance of planning and patience will pay off in the long run.

Courtney David Mills

Courtney David Mills

Associate

Author Courtney David Mills

Courtney David Mills concentrates his practice in medical malpractice defense. He represents hospitals, long term care facilities, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, clinics, and other healthcare providers in the defense of medical negligence claims.

© Riley Bennett Egloff LLP

Disclaimer: Article is made available for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. If you have questions about any matters in this article, please contact the author directly.

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Posted on March, 2 2020 by Courtney David Mills