You are sitting in your office on the busiest day of the year, and just when you think nothing else could go wrong, a person walks in and utters the fateful words “You’ve been served”, while handing you a stack of papers. You have just been sued. What is the best course of action you can take, and how can you protect yourself as well as your business?
Read the papers that are given to you to find out the party that is suing you. Is it a corporation, a partnership, or an individual? Are they a customer or a supplier of your business? Who is the lawyer representing the party that is suing you? This information will help your attorney obtain a more favorable result for you by researching the other party and its counsel. (Do they settle often? Are they a big company? What are their financial resources? Do they have a reputation to maintain and therefore may want to settle quickly?).
What exactly are you being sued about? Is it a non-payment claim, or a non-performance claim? Those are many reasons why a business may be sued.
Timing is critical in a lawsuit. Responses must be filed within a set period, which in New York is usually within 30 days. While an extension can be granted, don’t wait until the last minute to contact your attorney. It takes time to prepare an appropriate answer to the papers. If you do not respond in a timely fashion, you will be considered in default, and a judgment may be taken against you. This means you may lose the case without the opportunity to provide a defense.
Also, don’t assume you are judgment proof, because judgments can be collected from future earnings as well as assets. In addition, do not assume that your insurance covers everything, although it may be wise to notify your insurance carrier as well as your attorney.
What court are you being sued in? What county? State or Federal Court? You may be sued in a state far away if, for instance, you have done business in that state. In that case, your New York attorney will have to obtain local counsel for you in the other state, and this takes time.
Why did the party resort to a lawsuit? Is it something you can fix by having your attorney talk to the other side and negotiate a settlement? Is there a running animosity between your company and the other party, in which case settlement will be difficult? Do you need to file a counterclaim against the other party?
Immediately notify and supply the lawsuit papers to your attorney. Make sure you retain a photocopy for yourself. Inform your attorney of all the facts relevant to the case. Your attorney will decide what is important and what is not.
Organize your documents pertaining to the case so that you can minimize the time the attorney must spend going through them. This will save your attorney ‘s time, and therefore save you legal fees. Do not talk to the other party’s attorney. He works for the other party, just as your attorney works for you. Let your attorney do this for you. In addition, remember that in law, just as in any profession or business, there are rules and procedures your attorney knows and you may not. To stay out of trouble, leave the legal work to your attorney.
A trial can take several years in New York, including preparation time. Therefore, it may be in your best interest in certain cases to settle. However, be realistic in your settlement expectations.
Having an ongoing attorney-client relationship will help protect you in the event of a lawsuit. The more your attorney knows about your business, the better the attorney will be able to help you. In addition, discussing business options and problems with your attorney ahead of time could help prevent a lawsuit from ever starting. Either way, it will save you money in the long run.
Please be advised that the above is for informational purposes only. If you have a legal problem, please consult our law office at 212-233-0666.