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The "you've been served!" gag is only funny in movies. In real life, getting sued can be stressful, annoying, and time-consuming. Much of this stress stems from the fear of “how do I respond to a lawsuit?”
But if handled properly and methodically, it doesn't have to be as much trouble. Contrary to how it feels at the moment, the law really does help both parties. All you have to know is how to use all the available resources and options.
To help you do exactly that, we broke it down into a few basic steps.
Here's how you can respond to a lawsuit effectively and efficiently.
If you've received a summons or a legal notice, it'll likely have a date before which you need to respond. You should strictly adhere to this deadline. Missing the deadline to respond could further complicate your case or even result in a default judgment for the plaintiffs. The best course of action is to avoid this and respond within the stipulated time.
Usually, you'll have about 20 days to respond to a lawsuit. But this differs depending on your case, so please check the document for a fixed date and start your process accordingly.
While it's possible to respond to a lawsuit independently, hiring an attorney is a much safer option. Unless you have some prior experience with the law, wading into all the legalese and trying to figure everything out from scratch can get very overwhelming.
On the other hand, an attorney who specializes in a particular field will be able to quickly assess your case and give you sound advice. For instance, if you've been sued for trademark infringement, a trademark attorney experienced in trademark law will be able to guide you well.
Lawyers can also draft quick, court-appropriate responses as they have plenty of experience with cases like yours. So, in the above-mentioned case, a trademark attorney can file a trademark application or even file a trademark office action from the USPTO if required.
A lawyer will also be able to give you a better idea of the various routes you can take for your response.
You must take the time to analyze your case thoroughly. If you've hired an attorney, make sure to go over all the details with them. This will help you figure out the best course for legal action. Luckily, you have many options for how you can respond to a lawsuit:
This is one of the most common responses to a lawsuit. It's an opportunity for you to explain your side of the story or issue a general denial. You can systematically address the plaintiff's allegations while also communicating your perspective.
This also works as a stopgap while you figure out your broader strategy.
The deadlines to respond usually don't give a defendant too much time to plan, but failing to respond in time could lead to a default judgment in your opponent's favor. Filing an answer addresses these issues and buys you some time to plan your next move.
Not every case even makes it to a court for a hearing. Avoiding that altogether by negotiating an agreement or settlement with whoever is suing you is possible.
This is a good course of action, especially if the grievance is small or if the case isn't too complicated. Since it's a speedy resolution, it can also reduce your legal expenses in the long run.
But remember that the court deadline still applies. If your negotiations take a while, you'll still need to file an answer with the court before the deadline.
If the original complaint doesn't have sufficient information and/or details about the claim, some courts allow you to file a motion for a more detailed statement. If the plaintiff's complaint is too vague, you can file this kind of motion because it prevents you from filing an answer. This can also buy you a little more time in the correct circumstances.
If you've received an unfounded complaint, you can file a cross-complaint. This means you can counter-sue the plaintiff who sued you for the damages caused to you by their wrongful lawsuit.
But it can't be a matter of opinion. A lawyer can help you find a legal reason to file your own lawsuit responding to the complaint filed against you.
By filing a motion to dismiss, you're basically asking a court to dismiss your case. You can take this step if you find any discrepancies or inconsistencies that can disqualify the case. Things like:
… can all be considered grounds for dismissal.
When you file a motion to dismiss, the deadline to file an answer to the complaint is postponed until the judge decides.
Once you've decided how to respond, it's time to get your legal documents in order and file an answer. If you don't have a lawyer, you could request an answer form from a court clerk to ensure you're filing it correctly.
Also, remember that you'll have to include the filing fee with your answer form. Check the website or visit the court for information about the correct filing fee, which may vary in different courts.
Once you've filed your response with the court, you'll also need to give the plaintiff and/or their attorney a copy. Most courts require you to submit a "proof of service" to the court to show that the plaintiff received the documents.
However you decide to respond, once the first step is out of the way, you'll need to be patient and wait for the court to respond. But the good news is that you can use this time to further plan your strategy.
The court may ask for a pre-trial hearing with a judge to see if there's a scope for a settlement. You could start gathering proof and evidence in your favor or kick off negotiations if you think that's better. Depending on the outcome of the pre-trial hearing, you may have to present your defense or counterclaim.
Whatever comes next, the first response goes a long way in determining what direction you want to take. You need to plan and get as much information about the legal process as possible. While we are happy to offer you a blueprint like this one, this doesn't constitute formal legal advice.
We highly recommend getting official legal counsel, as each lawsuit has its own nuances and layers.
No — while it may seem like the easier option, actually ignoring a lawsuit will only make things worse. It could result in the court passing a default judgment against you. This could include having your wages garnished, your bank accounts attached, or your property taken.
In civil cases, yes, lawsuits can only claim economic "damages". However, in other cases, such as intellectual property infringement, there could be other resolutions or demands within the lawsuit.
Lawsuits usually take some time to resolve, and multiple steps are involved. Any testimony or evidence against you could harm your case at any of these points. So, to avoid inadvertently saying something that may get you in trouble, it's better to avoid talking about it to anyone other than a professional lawyer.
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Amrusha is a versatile professional with over 12 years of experience in journalism, broadcast news production, and media consulting. Her impressive career includes collaborating extensively with prominent global enterprises. She garnered recognition for her exceptional work in producing acclaimed shows for Bloomberg, a renowned business news network. Notably, these shows have been incorporated into the esteemed curriculum of Harvard Business School. Amrusha's expertise also encompassed a 4-year tenure as a consultant at Omidyar Network, a leading global impact investing firm. In addition, she played a pivotal role in the launch and content strategy management of the startup Live History India.
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