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  • Darrell Cartwright

Help! I have been sued. What should I do?

It may begin with a knock on your door. On the other side you find someone from law enforcement, or perhaps simply a special process server handing you a Summons and Complaint. You have now been served with a lawsuit. What do you do? Let's take it by the numbers.

1. First, don't panic, but act promptly. Upon being served with a lawsuit in Alabama, you have a short time frame to have a legal response filed, such as an Answer.

State Small Claims/District Court - 14 days

Federal District Court - 21 days

State Circuit Court - 30 days

2a. Contact your insurance provider, if you have insurance. Often they will provide litigation defense for you and hire a lawyer to protect your interest. They need to be put on notice promptly, or else you may waive your rights under your policy.

2b. Consult your own attorney at the same time, or before. Hopefully you have a good connection with a lawyer already. While your attorney may not be the one defending the lawsuit (or he/she may be), they can make sure your interests are protected. Insurance companies have a conflict of interest with you-they may decide to deny they have coverage for the incident for example. Or they may decide to provide a defense under a quote reservation of rights," which means that they reserve the right to ask you for repayment of their costs.

3. Work with your attorney to provide the defense. Gather paperwork or other evidence you may need to defend your claim.

4. Be reasonable in your approach to the lawsuit. Try to take emotion out of it. While you may be upset that you have been sued, business decisions may need to be made. Settlements may be proposed, which may make business sense to avoid protracted, expensive litigation, with exposure. Keep an open mind, and listen to your attorney and their recommendations as you proceed.

5. Be patient, Grasshopper. The wheels of justice turn slowly. Often a lawsuit will involve a flurry of activity, and then weeks of nothing seeming to happen. This is not unusual. Even with dockets that are not logjam, it may take months or longer to get to trial if your case ever does.


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