What Not To Do If You Get Sued

Once upon a time, a friend reached out to me for some legal advice. For the sake of not having to refer to him as ‘my friend’ throughout this post, let’s call him Kevin. Kevin had ‘received something in the mail about a lawsuit,’ and wanted to know if I could help him sort it out. “Of course!” I said, and I paid him a visit a couple of days later. When he showed me the paperwork, my stomach sank. It was a court order entering a default judgement against him.

“This is not good,” I said. “When did you first find out about this?”

“Maybe 3 or 4 months ago,” he shrugged.

“Did you respond to it?”

“No, I thought I didn’t have to.”

“Why not?” I asked trying to hide my disbelief.

“Because when they served the legal notice, I wasn’t home and they gave it to someone else who gave it to me. I didn’t think I had to respond if they didn’t give it to me directly.”

I can’t lie, I was beside myself. The lawsuit was bogus, and had Kevin called me 3 or 4 months ago when he first found out about it I could have helped him address it rather painlessly. I knew there was probably little that I could do to help. He had waited too long to take action, and as a result his options were extremely limited.

What Went Wrong?

So let’s examine what went wrong here. First, let’s acknowledge that facing a lawsuit is stressful. If you’ve been unlucky enough to end up on the receiving end of a legal complaint, you know the sense of fear and dread that comes with it. However, like any other problem, simply ignoring it won’t make it go away.

Ignoring the lawsuit was Kevin’s first mistake. There is a lot of misinformation out there about service of legal process. For anyone who doesn’t know, service of process is the procedure that a person must follow after filing a lawsuit to notify the other person that they have been sued. A lawsuit can’t proceed without proper service of process. Kevin thought that because the legal notice was given to another person who was at his house, he had not been properly served. So he ignored the lawsuit even though he was aware of it.

Generally speaking, in Pennsylvania adult members of an individual’s household or adult person’s in charge of the residence can accept service on behalf of that individual who has been sued. In Kevin’s situation, his misunderstanding of the law led him to make a costly mistake. But it is not his job to know the law. So I don’t blame him for not knowing that he should have responded to the lawsuit when he received the first notice.

The worst mistake he made was waiting 3 or 4 months to call me. Had he reached out to me immediately I would have corrected his misunderstanding and given him actionable advice. Then, I would have put him in contact with a litigation attorney who could have disposed of the case relatively quickly. Instead he made a decision based on bad information, and was looking at a 5 figure default judgment, which would be difficult and expensive to set aside.

This is actually one of the most common mistakes I see people make when facing a lawsuit. They wait until their options are bad or worse before seeking professional help. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told someone “I wish you had come to me sooner.”

You may be hesitant to reach out to an attorney because you think it will be expensive. Or maybe you don’t trust attorneys. Or maybe you feel like you can handle it on your own. Whatever reason you may have for not reaching out to a professional, it’s not good enough. If you get sued, call an attorney. Even if you decide not to hire one, at least talk to one. It will help you understand your options, and avoid the mistake that Kevin and many others make everyday.

The Moral of the Story

Learn from Kevin’s plight. Once you are aware of a lawsuit, ignoring it is a bad idea. Like most problems, it won’t go away until you deal with it. And most importantly, speak to a professional before taking action.

If you find yourself on the wrong end of a lawsuit, M. Zane {+} Associates can help you evaluate your options. We can provide you with the information you need to make a good decision, and connect you with a trustworthy litigation attorney. Make your next move your best move, and give us a call at 267-475-7052 or schedule a free consultation at a time that works for you.