The Basics of Responding to a Lawsuit

If you’ve been sued and are unfamiliar with the legal system, it is a good practice to immediately consult with an attorney. This is because once a lawsuit begins there are many important dates and deadlines that will impact your rights.

When Do You Need to Respond?

A lawsuit is initiated when a Plaintiff files a complaint against the Defendant. In California State Courts, once the Defendant is served with the complaint the Defendant has thirty (30) days to respond to the complaint.  It is important to seek legal advice immediately because you do not receive extra time to respond just because you have not been able to talk to an attorney.

Why You Need to Timely Respond?

If you’ve been sued it is important to file a timely response to a complaint. This is because if a Defendant fails to timely respond to a Complaint, the Plaintiff may enter a default against the Defendant, meaning the Defendant automatically loses the case. Once a default is entered the Defendant cannot respond to the lawsuit.  A Plaintiff can then obtain a judgment and money damages against the Defendant without the Defendant presenting their side of the case.

In order to set aside an entry of default or default judgment the Defendant must make a “motion” to the court. A court is given wide discretion to set aside defaults.  Therefore, it is very important to respond prior to the Plaintiff having an opportunity to file an entry of default.

Who Will You Need To Notify?

If you are sued and have insurance, you should notify your insurance company. Insurance policies typically require that you notify your insurance carrier if you are sued. If you do not notify your insurance company that you are involved in a lawsuit, you may violate certain provision in your policy.

How Long Will the Process Take?

Lawsuits and other court actions are typically a slow process. A typical lawsuit is resolved through a trial within one to two years of filing, but the parties can agree to a settlement at any time which saves time and attorney fees.  Settlement can occur without using “Alternative Dispute Resolution” (ADR), but ADR is extremely helpful.  See our post on ADR for more information about how it may help your case.

A “Case Management Conference” is usually the first court appearance by everyone involved in the lawsuit and is held within sixty (60) days of the initial complaint being filed. At the Case Management Conference the parties select the dates for trial, other court proceedings, and deadlines, but most of the time, only the attorneys are required to appear. Depending on the complexity of the case, a trial is scheduled within 8 to 18 months of the Case Management Conference.

While the parties are awaiting for trial, the parties will typically engage in the discovery process and settlement negotiations. During the discovery process, the parties conduct depositions and request answers to written interrogatories and requests for production of documents. This enables a party to learn more about the opposition’s case. It is also important to note that about 90% of cases settle prior to the dates set for trial. This is because the parties typically learn more about the strengths and weakness of their case as trial approaches.