Help! I think I'm being sued.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: This is not legal advice for your case. This is a general description of how a lawsuit is initiated. No lawyer can provide you advice without knowing the facts of your case. In order to decide the steps necessary in your specific case I would need to have a discussion with you and ask you detailed questions about your case. This information does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. We require a written fee agreement between us before we take on your case. Please contact us to discuss how we can help.
Facing a lawsuit is a stressful event in anyone’s life. Hopefully it never happens to you.
First, find out if you are actually being sued? When someone says they are “being sued,” they typically mean someone or some business has drafted(or had a lawyer draft) a Complaint naming them or their company as a defendant, filed it with a court, and formally served the proper documents to initiate the suit. Your first defense is often that these documents were not properly served on you. Proper service requires a discussion with a lawyer to analyze whether the other party followed the proper procedure. I’ve had instances where a client was told about a suit, I located it in the court’s filings, but the other party never served the documents. I was glad to see the case get dismissed by the court after the time for service expired. I hope you’re so lucky, but if not, continue on…
Second, just because someone has filed and served paperwork on you does not automatically mean you’ve done anything wrong or owe anyone money. Anybody can draft up paperwork and file it with a court. The court doesn’t look at it and decide if it has any merit until you ask it to. The court merely accepts the paperwork filed with it, no matter how ridiculous it may be (insert link to crazy lawsuit). The person then pays a process server or law enforcement officer to serve the documents on you. None of these people/entities in this initial part of the process looks at whether the suit has any merit. Don’t be confused by the sheriff’s deputy at your door. If he’s not handing you a search warrant or asking where you were last night at 11PM, he may just be performing process service which is a service provided by most law enforcement agencies in the state (in fact, if you choose to sue someone you can use this service yourself). The officer or process server should tell you he’s just there to serve documents on you.
Also, the person handing you these papers probably does not know what the papers are about. They’re just tasked with tracking you down and handing them to you. If you’ve answered the door to a process server, just take the papers and find an attorney to review them with. This is not a time to stick your head in the sand. If a process server has found you and identified you, service on you is likely proper at that moment and refusing the papers does not help you. If a process service has located where you live, he’s going to find a way to complete service on you. It’s best to just begin to plan how you will deal with the suit.
HERE’S THE MOST IMPORTANT PART IF YOU THINK YOU’RE BEING SUED…You need to determine if and when you must answer the Complaint. As of writing in 2018, most civil complaints filed in Colorado District Court must be responded to within 21 days of service (in a County Court case the time to respond is the appearance date, which you should find listed in the Summons). This is not much time. Finding a lawyer who has expertise and capacity to work on your case can take time. A week before your Answer is due is often too little time for most lawyers. It can take time to find a lawyer or decide if you need to answer the Complaint, so start as soon as you know about the suit. If you are threatened with a suit, a lawyer can look in the court’s system to see if anything has been filed.
Not answering the Complaint is usually not an option. If you fail to respond to a Complaint, a default judgment can be entered against you. A plaintiff can use a default judgment to get a final judgment against you which can be collected. Once a default judgment is reduced to a final judgment, you’re no longer able to argue about the merits of the case. It’s very difficult to find a way to undo a final judgment. There are some ways we can help you reopen a default judgment, but you should avoid letting the case ever get there. If a final judgment is entered, you’ve lost all your factual defenses, such as why you don’t owe the money sought or why the piece of property is yours. A final judgment is also collectable, which means the Plaintiff can garnish your bank account or wages or lien your real estate. You never want to worry that you might check your bank account one morning and the amount of the judgment has been removed.
Even if the complaint against you has no merit, you must answer. Answering might involve responding to the allegations of the Complaint, asserting your own counterclaims, or responding with a motion, such as a motion to dismiss or a motion for a more definite statement. These are other questions for your attorney, or for much more research on your part.
Unfortunately, you are now involved in the legal system, willingly or not. Being involved means you must pay to play, even if you never asked to be invited. This means you have to pay a filing fee to answer the Complaint. This fee varies by the type of court and by whether you just file an answer, file an answer with counterclaims, bring in third parties, demand a jury, and other various scenarios (Court Fees). Currently, the fee just to respond with an answer in Colorado District Court and not request a jury is $158.00. In Colorado County Court the fee just to respond with an answer and not request a jury is currently $92.00.
Be proactive. Find out what the claims against you are. Find out if, and when, you need to answer. A consultation with a lawyer can put your mind at ease and show you the course ahead. The good news is that once you answer, you usually have many months to prepare your defense, file motions to potentially dismiss the other party’s claims, decide whether to negotiate, and to schedule trial. A lawsuit is usually a long process, but answering a Complaint comes up fast, so don’t delay.