It can feel like a nightmare. You walk into work or arrive home and find out that someone is suing you or your business. Your head floods with worst-case scenarios. While a pending lawsuit can be stressful, it is also manageable if direct and immediate action is taken. The following are simple steps that you can take to mitigate an already-stressful situation, based on my experience as a trial attorney:
- Find out when the lawsuit was received and contact counsel immediately. Every lawsuit has a deadline for response (in Virginia and D.C., parties have 21-days from service to respond). However, the deadline is dependent on when a party is served or when the lawsuit was officially “received.” A receptionist’s acceptance of the document, for example, may be enough to “start the clock.” This means that even if you are named and did not know that the lawsuit was received, your deadline for response may be halfway gone. Speaking with an attorney right away can clarify this issue and potentially result in an early dismissal of the case. Failing to respond can result in a default judgment (i.e., the judge will order you to pay without allowing you the right to answer or defend yourself).
- Preserve all documents and evidence. Many jurisdictions prohibit the deletion of potentially relevant evidence once a lawsuit starts. Speaking with your staff about maintaining records (both paper and electronic) relating to the subject matter of the lawsuit can prevent penalties from the court down the road. (Many jurisdictions will fine or otherwise penalize parties that try to hide or delete evidence).
- Don’t panic. A lawsuit is a series of allegations. It’s important to remember that the allegations need to be proven in order to assign liability. Companies and their teams should work with counsel to develop an action plan to assist with answering and/or seeking to dismiss the lawsuit. Directing focus at an early juncture can result in maximized success and less risk.
I recommend that these simple tips are shared throughout organizations – from administrative staff all the way to executives. As a trial counsel, I’ve seen that “demystifying” and removing the initial shock associated with a lawsuit can result in a much more efficient resolution and/or litigation process. Everyone is part of the “team” when it comes to responding to and understanding the litigation process.
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ABOUT THEODORA STRINGHAM
firstname.lastname@example.org | 703.745.1849
Theodora Stringham assists individuals, businesses, and organizations with growing successfully while minimizing liability. Focusing on real estate and personnel needs, Ms. Stringham executes sustainable plans for real estate development and employee matters. She provides comprehensive representation for everyday growth issues, including, but not limited to, re-zonings, site plan approvals, eminent domain/valuation concerns, employment discrimination, and disciplinary issues. Ms. Stringham’s scope of representation ranges from identifying potential liability and providing counseling/trainings, all the way through representation at trial.
ABOUT OFFIT KURMAN
Offit Kurman, one of the fastest-growing, full-service law firms in the United States, serves dynamic businesses, individuals and families. With 18 offices and more than 250 lawyers who counsel clients across more than 30 areas of practice, Offit Kurman helps maximize and protect business value and personal wealth by providing innovative and entrepreneurial counsel that focuses on clients’ business objectives, interests and goals. The firm is distinguished by the quality, breadth and global reach of its legal services and a unique operational structure that encourages a culture of collaboration. For more information, visit www.offitkurman.com.
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