INTEGRITY LAW – Central Virginia’s Civil Litigation Firm
“OH, NO! I Just Got Sued. What Do I Do?”
Courts can be terribly intimidating places. Judges hold the fate of quarreling parties in their hands. Highly trained trial lawyers use every trick in the book to gain an advantage for their clients. And the stakes can be life-changing. Civil judgments to pay money to the other party, injunctions against taking certain actions, success or failure of a business – all these may be on the line.
No wonder everyday folks find the courtroom intimidating.
So here are a few “do’s and don’t’s,” if you’ve been sued, or think you may be.
1. Ignore a court summons. If you get served with a lawsuit, guess what? You have exactly 21 days to respond. If you fail to respond in 21 days, the judge may award a “default judgment” to the other party, and you will owe everything they’ve demanded you to pay, possibly with court costs and interest.
2. Discuss the case with anyone until you have spoken to an attorney. In Virginia, conversations can be recorded as long as ONE PARTY knows it’s being recorded. If the other party is represented by a good attorney, she will probably have you making statements that will come back to haunt you in court. It’s not just in criminal law, but in civil litigation too. “Anything you say can and will be used against you.”
3. Try to respond yourself. If you fail to answer every claim the other party makes, they may get a default judgment against you for claims you failed to answer. Also, there may well be defenses you can assert against the claim. But many of those are “use it or lose it” defenses, and a good attorney on the other side will try to make sure you lose any defenses you don’t think to assert.
4. Destroy evidence. You think it will help, but it may make things much worse. Destruction of evidence may turn a civil problem into a criminal problem with jail time.
5. Transfer assets to avoid a judgment. Often folks will “give” an asset to a friend or family member to avoid losing it in a judgment. The court will probably undo your “gift,” or you may lose an even bigger asset instead. I have seen cases where a debtor gave away lawn equipment and ended up with her home at risk of seizure instead.
1. Consult quality legal counsel. Yes, occasionally you will have a case you can handle on your own. It won’t happen often. An experienced attorney can advise you. And in the great majority of cases, a good attorney is your best chance to get a good result.
2. Be completely honest with your attorney – the good, the bad and the ugly. He has an ethical obligation to keep your information confidential. It almost never works to hide things out of embarrassment, and hope your attorney and the opposing attorney just don’t find out. The court’s discovery rules ensure that the other side will probably find out before trial anyway. Your best chance to deal with the “bad and the ugly” is to make your attorney aware, so he can be fully prepared. Sometimes it’s not as bad as you think. But if the first time your attorney hears it is when the other lawyer puts it in front of the jury, you’re in big trouble.
3. Do good homework. Marshal all the facts, documents and evidence you can. Make lists of people who may be witnesses for you. The better prepared you are, the better prepared your attorney can be – and the less he or she will cost.
4. Take the threat seriously, and invest in victory. Don’t risk having a judgment on your credit, losing your assets, or penalties against your business. Good legal defense isn’t free. But it’s cheaper than what your opponent has planned if you come into court undefended.
5. CALL INTEGRITY LAW. We are experienced, local, and dedicated to achieving results for our clients.
We handle everything from landlord/tenant issues to large lawsuits in federal court. We have the experience and resources to protect your rights.