Robert Murdoch

Robert Murdoch

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When You’re Being Sued


Moving right along, I hope you’re beginning to get the picture of how to lay all of this out so that you can make logical decisions.
So far, we’ve talked about the plaintiff. Let’s talk a little about what happens if you are the one getting sued. Many times the first time you’ll know that you are a defendant in a lawsuit is when someone hands you a bunch of papers.
The first thing to do once you’ve gotten served with papers is NOTHING!!
I don’t mean forever. 
Obviously they need to be addressed. But right at the outset, don’t do a thing. Put them on the table or the desk or whatever, and only later, when you’ve had a chance to relax and contemplate things, pick them up and start laying out your own options.
First of course the lawsuit has to be responded to. 
But you’ve got time. 
The shortest period that I’m aware of is twenty days (from the time you receive the papers) with the more popular trend being around thirty days. 
Now that doesn’t mean to leave them sitting on the counter until the last day. It does mean though, that you take the time to carefully consider your options.
From this angle you don’t have nearly as many options, but you still have more than most people realize.
Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do to shuffle things more to your liking.
Obviously, you can’t decide whether the lawsuit is started or not, it’s there in front of you, but there are some things that you can do about how it progresses.
First, do your own assessment from the plaintiff’s perspective. Why is this guy suing you? What does he hope to get? What is he after?
Here’s an example. We recently helped someone that had been sued for huge sums of money by someone who more money than he knew what to do with. Had to stop and think – what’s this about? He’s not going to get any money, and doesn’t need it anyway. Where is this going?
Turns out all the plaintiff wanted was for the defendant to “stop saying bad things about him”.
Not every lawsuit is that easy to dispose of, but at least start by trying to figure out what’s really going on. 
The big advantage that you have in this regard is that even if there is an attorney involved for the plaintiff, you can still pick up the phone and call the plaintiff. 
The professional rules of ethics are what preclude an attorney from speaking directly to someone who is represented. They don’t apply to you when you represent yourself!! You can talk to whoever you choose.
Oh yes – you’ll get the letter on the fancy letterhead from the attorney telling you that all communications are to go through him. In as polite, or as rude a way as you choose, you can tell him to stuff it. If the plaintiff does not wish to talk to you, he is free to ignore you, hang up on you, or tell you to go away. But unless he does, or unless a court orders you otherwise, you can contact him. 
This is more than just an ego issue. We’ll talk on down the road about attorneys, their fees and their billing practices. Attorneys can be as big an impediment to a quick and easy resolution of a case as any other single factor. After all, why would they let a case settle early on, when it can be settled later after they’ve billed thousands of dollars in fees?
Remember the case I just mentioned? It didn’t settle right away. It had gone well into the discovery phase, with documents flowing back and forth, pretrial conferences scheduled. The defendant was in touch with the plaintiff’s attorneys constantly – never did they suggest  or even mention settlement. Why would they? Their meter is running at four or five hundred dollars an hour!!! The defendant finally picked up the phone one day, called the plaintiff and just flat out said – “this is silly what can we do to settle this.” That’s all it took, but if that had ever come from the attorneys at all, it would have been on the eve of trial.
But that was just an example. Let’s move on. The lawsuit is filed. The plaintiff either won’t talk to you or tells you he’ll see you in court. (That’s as popular as “sue the bastards”).
Time to lay out a game plan.
The first thing you must understand is the papers, what’s in them, and the law that applies. 
Remember, we’ve been saying all along that knowledge and information are everything. 
This is the time for it. The reason is that the procedure regarding court papers is very strict. 
There are a lot of things that you can do wrong at this point. There are  grounds for defense, that you can literally by mistake throw away by saying the wrong things, or not saying needed things in your response.  At best you will probably be stuck for the rest of the lawsuit with what you say in those first papers.
So we stress, this is a point where you either need to do a lot of research very quickly or get some help. 
Be Your Own Lawyer can help you understand the papers that you’ve received and can explain your options to you. Chances are good that it won’t even cost you a dime to get this information since we’ll do it as part of a free case assessment. 
If you don’t like Be Your Own Lawyer get someone to look at it and help. The worst thing you can do is to just toss together a quick response by saying something like “nothing in the complaint is true” and send it off. You can literally lose your case, or make it much more difficult to win at this very early stage with mistakes here.
OK you’ve gotten some help and now you need to make some decisions on how to respond.
Here are some options. We’re going to discuss each of these later in a separate post, but here they are for now so that you can be thinking of them:
           Do you want to leave the lawsuit where it is or do you want to try to move it?
           Do you have a possible counterclaim? This is always great sport in that it lets the plaintiff    have a little skin in the game too.
           Is there someone else that you can bring in? Adding other defendants always spices things up.
           Are there issues with service or jurisdiction and if so, do you want to bother with them?
           Is the lawsuit in the court you want to be in? For example if the plaintiff is representing himself in small claims court, can you up the ante by filing a counterclaim large enough to get it bumped up to a higher court?
Stay tuned and we’ll discuss these questions and more!!!

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