You know what sucks?
Not only does it suck, it’s really easy to start a lawsuit. Usually all that’s needed is to pay a process server to hand the legal papers to you. That can be done for about 30 dollars. If the person who is suing you is acting as their own lawyer (acting pro se), then it doesn’t cost them a thing to write up the legal documents. Later, depending on when they want court involvement, it may cost a couple of hundred dollars for the filing fee to deposit the papers in court.
That’s it. Cheap, right?
What can you do about it? Well, the best defense starts with the facts. Sit down and write out the facts of the claim being made against you. Try to remember all of your interactions with the person who is suing you. Did they say something that contradicts what they wrote in the lawsuit? Are they stretching the truth in places? Are there outright lies (what we in the legal world call misrepresentations)?
Next, gather up all the writings about the lawsuit. That means everything you can put your hands on. Check all your files, boxes and cloud storage sites. You may want to ask your business associates or significant other if they know where you can look.
Then compile. Do you have a contract that is in dispute? Find it and put it in a binder together will all prior versions. If you have emails back and forth between you and the person suing you gather them up and print them off. Into the binder they go. Any other emails you have (maybe with a third party, for example) about the dispute also go in the binder. Letters are becoming less common these days but if you have any gather them up. If you were sent any certified letters note the day that you signed for it. If you sent any letters to anyone (the party suing you or a business for example) gather them up and put them in the binder. Text messages are becoming ubiquitous as a way to communicate. Get in contact with your wireless provider and see how to extract any relevant text messages. Print them off and get them in the binder. Photos tell a thousand words, they say. From experience, I can tell you that they are invaluable. Search your phone for any photos you may have that would possibly relevant to the lawsuit. Ask others who may have photos to do the same.
Continue marshalling the facts by creating a timeline. Download examples from the internet or use a spreadsheet program from Microsoft or Google. Organize everything (facts, documents, photos) chronologically. Have links to supporting websites if necessary and appropriate.
Now that you have the facts and documents together, you can help find out what law applies to your case. If you are good at internet research there are a multitude of legal websites that you can use to research the law that may be applicable to your case. In North Dakota, start with www.ndcourts.gov. You will find links to the statutes and cases that will help you determine what the law is. In other states and for federal statutes and cases, look at Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute for more information. Point your browser at www.law.cornell.edu. If you have access to pay services, try www.westlaw.com or www.lexisnexis.com.
The final step is to either answer the legal papers establishing legal affirmative defenses or by going on the offensive and counter-suing or both. Here it gets a little tricky. Knowing what you can say and allege in a answer or counter-suit is fact specific and requires some knowledge of what you are doing. So I don’t usually recommend that people handle their own defense. But gathering up the facts, documents and determining what law you think applies can be a great help to your lawyer. So if you have been sued, don’t despair. Call me right away, tell me when you got served and then go through the steps above. I will meet with you as soon as possible, confirm your research and prepare the necessary papers to defend or counter-sue for you. I help people everyday who have been sued. I can help you too!
You know what sucks?