If an individual is served with a lawsuit, their next steps are extremely important and time sensitive. If an individual is served with lawsuit papers, the first step is to carefully review those documents. They may contain local court rules or deadlines the individual will be required to follow.
The next step is to determine whether to hire an attorney or to defend yourself in civil court. If an individual chooses not to hire an attorney to help with their lawsuit, they must familiarize themselves with state, local, or court rules that apply to the lawsuit.
The final step in this portion of the lawsuit defense process is to determine how to respond to the lawsuit. This will vary based on whether or not the individual hired an attorney for assistance. An attorney will be familiar with court rules and applicable local or state laws and will be able to promptly respond to a lawsuit.
Do You Need an Attorney?
Whether or not an individual needs an attorney to defend their lawsuit depends on the individual and their case. In some cases, such as a small claims lawsuit, an attorney’s assistance may not be necessary.
Small claims court handles disputes involving small amounts of money and disputes that are typically between individuals or between an individual and a business. The typical range of money disputed in small claims court is between $1,000 and $5,000. The types of cases usually heard in small claims court are:
- Landlord-tenant disputes;
- Minor non-moving automobile accidents; and
- Merchandise refunds.
Even though an attorney may not be necessary, it is always advisable to find an experienced local attorney to assist and schedule a consultation as soon as possible. Even if an individual does not hire an attorney to be with them in the courtroom, the attorney can still provide advice on the case and assist with filling out any paperwork to be filed with the court.
If an individual is not sure what type of attorney to contact, they can post their case and get matched with an attorney near them. If an individual cannot find an attorney, they may be able to seek representation at a local legal aid office.
It is important to note that an individual may find it difficult to respond to a lawsuit without an attorney. There are many rules and regulations that must be followed in order for an individual to successfully defend themselves against a lawsuit.
What if I Choose to Represent Myself?
If an individual decides to represent themselves, it is important they understand the legal terms and processes involved in the lawsuit. It is important to remember that an individual can hire an attorney at any time during their lawsuit to help them.
Every lawsuit is different but a general overview of the process will be discussed below. There are general steps most lawsuits usually follow, but there are always exceptions.
To begin a lawsuit, the plaintiff, or injured party, files a complaint with the court and requests service of process. A complaint outlines the plaintiff’s case and what they are alleging. It is typically attached to papers an individual receives when they are served with a lawsuit. Legal documents filed with the court in a lawsuit are known as pleadings.
In a complaint, the plaintiff presents their version of the facts, outlines what law or laws support their claim or claims. The complaint also outlines what remedies the plaintiff desires, such as monetary damages or other legal remedies, such as an injunction. The complaint is often divided into numbered paragraphs, known as counts.
In most jurisdictions, the defendant, or the individual who is served with the lawsuit, has 30 days to respond to the complaint. This time limit may vary based on the court, type of lawsuit, or legal issues of the case. In some cases, the length of time available to respond is included in the service papers.
It is important to note that if the defendant does not respond in the required time frame, the plaintiff can request a default judgment. If a default judgment is granted, the plaintiff prevails in the case and the court will generally award the damages or legal actions requested in the complaint. If a default judgment is granted, a defendant may request to vacate the default judgment or appear the court’s ruling.
The next step an individual will complete is to answer the complaint. In some cases, however, it may be more appropriate to file a motion to dismiss, motion to quash, or a motion to strike in response to the complaint. The individual who was served should file these motions with the court listed on the service papers or lawsuit. These motions will also prevent a default judgment.
A motion to dismiss requests the court stop the lawsuit altogether. There are many reasons to file this type of motion, including a lack of jurisdiction. Jurisdiction is the court’s authority to hear and case or make a legal judgment on the case.
The most common types of jurisdiction are personal jurisdiction and subject matter jurisdiction. If a court has personal jurisdiction, it has authority over the plaintiff and defendant in the case. Subject matter jurisdiction is the court’s authority to hear the type of case in the lawsuit. An attorney can help determine whether a motion to dismiss is appropriate.
A motion to quash the service of process requests that the court void the service of summons. Without proper service, a lawsuit cannot continue. However, the plaintiff may request service a second time and correct the previous improper service.
Another possible response is a motion to strike. A motion to strike is a request for the complaint or part of the complaint to be removed from the record.
If the previously discussed motions do not apply to an individual’s case, the next step is to answer the complaint. In an answer, the defendant may include any applicable affirmative defenses or file a countersuit against the plaintiff in response to the lawsuit.
An answer is the pleading filed with the court following service of a lawsuit. In an answer, the defendant has the opportunity to respond to each paragraph, or court, of the complaint. Depending on the case, a defendant may want to include affirmative defenses such as comparative negligence in the answer.
If the defendant files as lawsuit against the plaintiff in response, it is known as a counterclaim. It can be included in the defendant’s answer to the lawsuit. If an individual does not know whether or not this is an option, an attorney will be able to help. It is important to note that if an individual chooses to represent themselves, the most important step to avoid a default judgment is to file an answer of some kind.
Often, courts will grant leniency to individuals who are not attorneys in the courtroom and guide them during proceedings. Of course, they cannot provide legal advice. The best choice is always to hire representation if possible.
Not Sure Where to Start? A Lawyer Can Lead the Way.
If you become a party to a lawsuit, there are a lot of things to consider and a lot of steps moving forward. Taking the right first step may make or break your case and be the difference between winning the lawsuit and losing the lawsuit. The best thing to do is hire an experienced local attorney to help you with your lawsuit.
An attorney will be familiar with the lawsuit process. They will be able to review the lawsuit, assist you with responding to the lawsuit, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.