You’ve Been Served a Summons/Complaint-Now What?

A very stressful time that occurs for many is when they get served with a Summons/Complaint in a lawsuit. For those who don’t know what it Summons is, it’s essentially a notice from another person or entity (most likely from their attorney) that you are being sued. The Complaint that alleges the reasons you are being sued is often attached to the Summons. Also, in most circumstances when you are given the Summons/Complaint, it is given to you in person by a process server or by the local Sheriff Department. This is what it means to be “served” and is usually very startling and upsetting for the person being served.

After you’ve had a chance to calm down from this stressful time, it’s important to thoroughly review the Complaint and understand why you are being sued. In the Complaint, the person suing you is called the “Plaintiff” and you are the “Defendant”.  It’s also important to read the Summons carefully as there are deadlines that must be followed. This is also the time that I would recommend contacting an attorney to understand what your rights are.

The most important deadline in the Summons is that you must “Answer” the Complaint within 20 days of receiving the Summons/Complaint. An Answer is a legal document that responds to all of the allegations in the Complaint. It’s crucial to contact an attorney immediately after receiving the Summons/Complaint so that they can thoroughly analyze the file and properly answer the Complaint. These allegations are typically answered in the form of an admission or denial-no further explanation is necessary. There are exceptions, but if you fail to answer the Complaint within the required 20 days, the allegations in the Complaint will be admitted and you will lose your case.

If you feel as though the Plaintiff has wronged you in any way that pertains to the allegations in the Complaint, in the Answer you can allege a “Counterclaim” against the Plaintiff. There are often two sides to every story, and the Counterclaim is your opportunity to tell your side of the story. The Counterclaim then requires the Plaintiff to respond to your allegations, similar to the Complaint. This is also a time where you can bring other parties into the lawsuit that you believe are necessary.

Once the Complaint and Answer/Counterclaim have been completed, the matter then typically gets filed with court administration, a court file number is created and a judge is assigned to your case. The next step is usually a scheduling conference. The scheduling conference is where the parties appear in front of the judge and agree to timelines for the case and a hearing date is set.

Please send any request for topic suggestions to rene@breenandperson.com.  Although we cannot give you legal advice through the column, we can provide some general information that may be helpful for you to know.  Our purpose is to educate and we hope that you can take something new away from this column each time you read it.