Got Sued? Now what?

 

Legal matters, business strategy, and life perspectives from the mind of a non-attorney.

Careful what you wish for…

In 2016, 852,828 new lawsuits were opened in the state of Wisconsin… We only have 5.8 million people living in the state. For those that were never “math” people, that’s roughly 1 lawsuit for every 7 people in the state.

The statistics get even more mind-numbing if you expand the scope to include the entire United States, where over 100 million new cases are opened each year in a country that is home to 323 million (about 1:3).

Facts:

  • On average, a new lawsuit is filed every 30 seconds.
  • 78% of lawsuit defendants never thought it would happen to them.
  • America has 80% of the World’s lawyers.
  • 96% of the WORLD’S lawsuits are filed in the United States.

Yikes.

Unless you’ve had the misfortune of being involved in a lawsuit, the likelihood is that you have no idea how the whole process works.

USLegal.com explains it this way:

“In Wisconsin a civil action commences by filing of a complaint.  (The) Party who commences the action is called the plaintiff, and the opposite party is called the defendant.  A civil action can be classified into various stages that include: pleading stage, discovery stage, trial stage, and judgment stage.

Pleadings acceptable in Wisconsin courts are: complaint, answer to complaint, counter claim, reply to counter claim, cross claim, answer to cross claim, third party complaint and answer to third party complaint.  A complaint should be filed by the real party in interest… Parties may obtain discovery by depositions upon oral examination or written questions; written interrogatories; production of documents or things or permission to enter upon land or other property, for inspection and other purposes; physical and mental examinations; and requests for admission.

At the trial stage, a party may demand for trial by jury.  A judgment is passed after trial.”

To be fair, it started off promising. The basic identification of how the process begins. Definition of Plaintiff/Defendant. But then… … … ???

Let’s see if I can do better.

So someone wants to sue you.

How do they do it? When do you know it’s for real? Better yet, when should you contact an attorney?

Chill. One question at a time, please.

First of all, they can’t just text you saying, “I hate your guts, I’m suing you for $500 because you’re the worst!”… I mean they CAN do that, but it doesn’t mean anything. If you’re a fan of The Office, someone doing that to you is basically the equivalent of Michael Scott’s famous, “I. DECLARE. BANKRUPTCYYYYYYY!!!!!!”

You don’t need to get worked up yet. And unless you’re truly having a meltdown, there’s probably no need to contact an attorney.

Everything gets real when the person who hates your guts files a “Summons and Complaint” with the Clerk of Courts. It basically says two (2) things: 1) Hey, guys, this jerk is the worst! They did “X, Y, and Z” to me and those things are against the law. 2) I will give this jerk “X” days to respond to my claim, otherwise they admit guilt.

Once the Clerk of Courts receives this “Summons and Complaint”, the information will be forwarded along to you. When YOU receive it, “You’ve been served.”

At this point, you have a whole bunch of options. The ball is in your court:

  • “Yep, I did it.”
  • “Nope, didn’t do it.”
  • “Yep, I did ‘X’ but I didn’t do ‘Y’ and ‘Z’”
  • “Hey, I don’t like you either! I want to sue you back!”

Unless you know beyond the shadow of a doubt how you should respond, this is a very good time to contact an attorney.

DISCOVERY

Short of you admitting guilt or not responding to the claims, the next step is for your case to go into discovery. It is what you’d expect: both sides ask each other information about the case, trying to discover as much factual information as possible, with the goal of building the strongest possible case. The length of the discovery period can vary dramatically, but usually lasts several months.

MEDIATION

After the discovery phase is over and all the facts are out in the open, the sides may decide to avoid trial by seeking to resolve the case in mediation. Mediation is heard by an unbiased 3rd party, who will offer a nonbinding verdict (meaning if either party disagrees with the verdict, the case will continue on and be heard by a judge/jury). However, if both parties DO agree, the case will be resolved without going to court! Pursuing mediation makes a TON of sense if you feel the individual(s) opposing you have some sense of rationale. Mediation, in general, offers the advantages of being much less time consuming, stressful, and costly than the standard Civil Court process.

One could say that pursuing mediation is the “mature” way of handling a dispute. “Hey, man, I see where you’re coming from. You see where I’m coming from. Let’s just get this over with so we can get on with our lives.”

Rather than waiting months – sometimes years – to have your case heard by the court system, a hearing with a mediator can often be scheduled within a couple of weeks.

SUMMARY JUDGEMENT

If the facts clearly support one side over the other, a motion for summary judgement may be filed. “Hey, Mr. Judge, just take a look at these facts. It’s obvious what happened here. We don’t need to waste our time with a trial. Just make your decision.”

PRETRIAL HEARING(S)

The judge and both sides discuss the facts of the case, charges faced, and what evidence will be allowed at the trial. This phase can amount to one brief hearing or several lengthy hearings, depending on the complexity of the case. This is usually a final opportunity for the sides to come to a “settlement”.

TRIAL

Each side presents evidence. Judge / Jury deliver a binding verdict. Cases that go all the way through trial normally take well over one (1) year from “complaint” to “verdict”.

Appeal

Just when you thought it was over. If you or your counterpart doesn’t like the decision the judge/jury made, that decision can be brought to an “appellate” court. “Hey, I think the judge/jury made a serious mistake in handling my case. I want someone else to look at these facts.” You should know, once the judge delivers a verdict, you are generally facing very long odds to get that decision overturned in an appellate court. But… There is always a chance.

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