Learning that a lawsuit has been filed against your business can bring with it quite a bit of both anxiety and worry. The business which you have carefully and painstakingly built and into which you have expended a lot of your time, money and other resources, and which has grown beyond your wildest expectations is facing allegations that potentially carry quite some legal, financial and other consequences.
The very first thing to do is to take a deep breath and make sure you understand what the lawsuit is all about. You may be able to deduce this by carefully reading the summons that you may have received, and where necessary, speaking to a lawyer to break it down for you.
The worst thing you can do is ignore a court summons. The idea of going to court is usually scary for most people but legal matters and lawsuits operate on highly specific, prearranged dates and deadlines. There will be a deadline as to your response to the summons, typically somewhere ranging within four weeks.
In some situations, you potentially might be able to respond to a court summons on your own with little to no effort or external help. This may be especially true of cases being heard at a small claims court, where you often won’t need legal representation. For other larger or more complex cases, chances are high that you are going to need professional legal help and representation.
In these more complex cases, once you have formally retained the services of a law firm of business lawyers, you must be sure to get your hands on any and all important documentation and correspondence you might have that is related to the case, and get it to your attorney as soon as you can for review. These documents will be vital if the case reaches a courtroom, and just as importantly, they may potentially be able to prevent the case from going any further in the first place.
It is also highly advisable not to communicate with the plaintiff (the person bringing the charges against your business) in any capacity once you have received that summons. As with any legal matter, anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law. It is best to leave all such communication with your attorney. Often, the attorneys of both the plaintiff and defendant will serve as messengers for the parties they represent. If you are in a situation where you have no choice but to interact with the plaintiff, do not discuss any aspect of the case whatsoever. Keep any conversation limited and strictly business-related, leaving the legal stuff to the lawyers.
After you speak with or retain a lawyer, it might also be a good idea to get in touch with your insurance provider. Most businesses have some form of business insurance and if the lawsuit that was filed against you falls under the umbrella of your policy, chances are that the costs of the lawsuit may be covered by the insurance company. You’ll have to check the specifics of your coverage and maybe speak to a consultant about your case. At the same time, it is a good idea not to expect that the insurance company will cover your legal expenses pertaining to this lawsuit. There are certain types of cases that may not be covered, hence why you must inform them of the situation as soon as possible.
When your attorney is filing an official response to the lawsuit, they will be sure to include an admittance or denial of the allegations leveled against your business, your defenses or counterclaims against the plaintiff, and whether you would like to resolve the issue out of court or go to trial.
In understanding what the lawsuit against you is about, you should also be sure to get a clear picture of what the plaintiff is seeking from you. You should know that lengthy court proceedings or trials can be a huge expense for you, even if you win. You should, therefore, consider if simply paying whatever monetary claim the plaintiff is seeking from you is a cheaper option than going trial. The only way you’ll know which option saves you the most money is to map out the possible costs and time involved should you choose to go to court, and then compare it to what the plaintiff is seeking. You very likely will need the experience of a skilled business litigation lawyer in this regard. However, more often than not, most attorneys will not even be able to give you a specific timeline of how long it may potentially take to resolve a case of litigation.
A lawsuit is certainly a frustrating thing to deal with at the very least, but you must be sure to stay focused on keeping your head above water. Do your best to compartmentalize your personal life from the lawsuit, and the lawsuit from your business. As a business owner, your main objective is to run and grow your business. Don’t let the lawsuit rattle you or distract you from this objective. And just as importantly, do your absolute best not to give anyone a reason to file a lawsuit against you in the future.
Given the nature of America’s extremely litigious society, just about anyone can wake up on any given day and file a lawsuit against you and you will have to take the time, money and other resources to defend yourself.
In the event that your case does go to trial, your best course of action is to always be honest, clear, and professional. Any attempts to cover up anything may result in a much worse outcome for you. This applies both to a courtroom as well as with your attorney. Your attorney will be best able to help you if he/she knows the full truth. And lying under oath in a court of law is a felony. So, don’t do that.
Michael Kay is a writer, entrepreneur, social media enthusiast and blogger. He writes for various publications online and offline. He has also joined the team of content writers at Telligent Marketing LLC, a digital marketing agency that offers attorney SEO services for law firms.