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What to Do When You Are Served with a Summons and Complaint

May 14, 2013

Posted in Business Litigation, Litigation Strategies

Reading ContractOften people know they have been sued when they are served with a summons and a complaint. The summons is a document issued by the court when the lawsuit is filed. Other than recording basic information such as the name of the attorney representing the plaintiff, the names of the parties, and the address of the courthouse, the most important functions of the summons is to notify you that you have 30 days to respond to the complaint. The complaint, on the other hand, initiates a civil action with an allegation and the basis for the relief that the plaintiff is seeking.

Don’t Read Too Much into the Complaint

Although the plaintiff is makes his or her factual allegations and the grounds for relieve in the complaint, you should not read too much into it. Allegations are just allegations, nothing more or less. An allegation is sufficient to initiate a lawsuit; however, to win the case at trial, it needs to be proven. Often, people are enraged by the allegations made, and when they become emotionally charged, they tend not to think clearly and logically.

Note the Date, Time, and the Circumstances of the Service

Unlike a subpoena, often a summons and complaint need to be personally served on you, usually at your residence, or after several attempts, they can be served on any adult who answers the door, in which case, copies will be sent to you in the mail. Sometimes, process servers simply leave the summons and complaint on the front porch, behind the screen door, or at the doorstep without talking to anyone in the house. If this happens, you are not properly served.

You need to know when you are properly served because the service triggers the 30-day deadline to respond to the complaint. You need to answer the complaint by filing the answer, cross-complaint, or response pleading to the complaint with the court.

Unless the responsive pleading is filed, the plaintiff may request a default judgment. Although such a request can be set aside for good reasons, there are some instances where the court refuses to do so; it is not a risk that anyone should take. Thus, you should pay attention to the date, time, and the circumstances detailed on the service so that you know when you need to respond.

Gather all the Documents

Once you find out who is suing you and why, you should immediately gather all the documents associated with the persons, events, and subject of the lawsuit. In business litigation, this often means e-mails, letters, faxes, contracts, memoranda, receipts, invoices, purchase orders, company books and records, and bank statements.

Compiling these documents often helps you to refresh your memory of the events and communications leading to the dispute.

Make an Appointment with Your Attorney

You need to consult your attorney about all the available options so that you can evaluate what you need to do next. Besides the obvious, such as the chance of winning, the expenses involved, and how you stand to gain if you win, you should discuss the litigation strategies that are most suitable for you goals with your attorney.

If you have been served with a summons and complaint, you will need to respond within 30 days and your time is limited. Consult with the Law Offices of Tony T. Liu, an experienced and respected Orange County business trial attorney, today to learn about your options at (714) 415-2007 or on our web site,