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Kevin O'Flaherty

Being served with a lawsuit is an urgent notice that legal action has been initiated against you, requiring immediate attention. The summons and complaint you receive detail the allegations and instruct you on how to respond. Ignoring this notice risks a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor without your defense. It's crucial to quickly understand the claims, the court involved, and prepare to respond to protect your legal rights and interests.

Understanding the Legal Notice

Legal notice document on a desk

The journey starts with comprehending the legal notice you’ve received when served with a lawsuit. Being served means you are receiving official notice of a lawsuit filed against you and that you need to respond in court. This is not a moment to panic, but rather a signal to mobilize and understand the legal documents you have received.

The legal notice, often known as the summons and complaint, informs you about the lawsuit and the reasons for it. It would be wise to read through these legal papers thoroughly to understand the allegations against you, who is suing you, and the court where the lawsuit was filed.

What is a Summons?

A Summons is a legal notice that informs a non-filing party that a lawsuit has been started they have been named on. The summons provides initial instructions on how the defending party must proceed and timelines to move the case forward.

It contains vital information such as:

  • The name of the court and the parties involved
  • The address of the plaintiff’s attorney (or the plaintiff if they are unrepresented)
  • The time within which you must appear and defend

This document carries a warning that failure to appear and defend may result in a default judgment being entered against you. This essentially means that the court could rule in favor of the plaintiff without hearing your side of the story or considering any present evidence. Hence, treating this document with seriousness and acting promptly is necessary.

How Do I Know if Service Was Valid?

There are rules and regulations related to the manner of serving this paperwork. Generally speaking, you, or a person over 14 living in your home, will be served paperwork by the local sheriff’s department. If and when this happens, the service is valid. In some instances, the court will allow people known as special process servers to deliver the summons in place of the sheriff. Professional process-serving companies are often hired due to their expertise in serving legal documents, particularly when a defendant is deliberately elusive. By ensuring that legal documents are appropriately delivered, process servers play a critical role in the functioning of the legal system.

Hand Delivery

Hand delivery is a method often employed by process servers to ensure that you receive the legal documents directly. This method gives the process server the chance to verify your identity and ensure that the correct party has been served. Maintaining the integrity of the judicial system hinges on this, as it guarantees that you are aware of the lawsuit and provided a chance to defend yourself.

Certified Mail

In instances where hand delivery is not feasible, certified mail comes into play. This method is used to inform you of a lawsuit brought against you. You are considered ‘served’ via certified mail when you receive serve papers with a return receipt requested.

The server mails the legal documents to you, along with a request for a return receipt. This method provides a receipt that confirms the mail’s delivery and serves as proof that you were notified. A completed Proof of Service form is required after service, allowing the court to confirm appropriate notification.

What Happens if the Service of Process Was Not Valid?  

If service is flawed or somehow invalid, you or your attorney can file a motion to quash service. This motion, if granted, will make it appear to the court that you were never served with the summons and complaint. If any orders or judgments were entered based on improper service, those orders are removed from the record. All timelines restart when the service has been quashed, and the case is taken back to the original starting point.  

What Should I Do Now That I Have Been Served?

Once you have been served, it is imperative to take immediate action. You should review the summons and complaint to determine what the lawsuit is about and your subsequent actions. Generally, you will be required to file an appearance with the court and an answer to whatever has been filed against you.  

Do I Have to Participate?

Yes, unless you agree with the lawsuit filed against you. If you do not contest the allegations, the court will assume they are valid and grant a judgment or order in favor of the plaintiff. If you do not participate, the court will enter a default order against you, which means you failed to contest the allegations against you.

What if I Can’t Afford a Lawyer?

It is always best to use a lawyer to protect your legal rights. You do not want to accidentally harm your position through an omission or failure to take specific actions. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you are allowed to proceed as a self-represented litigant, but you are held to the standard of an attorney.  

Filing an answer with the court involves a few essential steps. To begin with, you should be aware that there may be a cost associated with filing a civil action or proceeding in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which is typically $350. This filing fee might be waived if you’re unable to afford it, as an in forma pauperis status may waive the $55 administrative fee required for filing a civil action, suit, or proceeding.

When preparing to file your answer, make sure to:

  • Familiarize yourself with the court rules and case law specific to the court where the answer is being filed to ensure procedural compliance.
  • Ensure that the chosen form is adequate for your particular case and meets the court’s filing requirements.
  • Only include limited personal information.

How Long Do I Have to Take Action?

The clock starts ticking the moment you receive the summons and complaint. In most situations, you typically have 30 days to respond to a lawsuit after being served. The counting starts the day after service and ends on the thirtieth day. If you were served through certified mail, the service is presumed complete five days after mailing, with an extended period to ten days for out-of-state parties.

It’s also important to note that when the response deadline falls on a weekend or holiday, it is extended to the subsequent court day. By the deadline, you must not only serve a copy of your response to the opposing party but also file it with the court. Failing to respond by the deadline allows the plaintiff, who is the other party in this case, to request a default judgment from the court, risking a decision made without your participation.

What Happens If I Do Not Respond Within the Provided Timeline?

Failure to respond in the required time period can result in a default order being entered against you.  

What if the Complaint or Petition is Wrong or Contains Lies?

Suppose the complaint is inaccurate or contains false allegations. In that case, you should deal with those issues in your response to the complaint. You are provided with an opportunity to defend yourself against any allegations that have been made against you. Suppose the complaint is incorrect or you do not believe you are responsible for the allegations made against you. In that case, it is essential to do so.

For help figuring out your rights contact O'Flaherty Law and one of our experienced civil defense attorneys. You can give us a call at (630)-324-6666 or fill out our confidential contact form today.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get around being served?

If you're looking to avoid being served, common methods include not answering the door, lying about your identity, or staying at a family member or friend's home. It's important to handle legal matters responsibly and seek appropriate professional advice.

What happens after you got served?

After being served, it is crucial to review the summons and complaint promptly and take necessary action by filing an appearance with the court and providing an answer to the lawsuit.

What does it mean to be served with a lawsuit?

Being served with a lawsuit means that you have been officially notified of legal proceedings against you, typically by receiving a piece of paper requiring you to respond in court.

What is the role of a process server?

The role of a process server is to deliver summons, following legal requirements such as personal delivery or leaving the documents at the defendant's residence or office.

How long do I have to respond to a lawsuit?

You have twenty calendar days from receipt of the summons and complaint to file a response with the court. It is important to adhere to this timeline to avoid potential consequences.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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