Getting served with court papers is probably one of the most stressful moments you can experience. Chances are, you don’t even know what to do after you receive those papers.
Serving the court papers is a pretty straightforward process. A process server will come to you, serve you court summons and the complaint being made against you, and then leave. If you attempt to evade them, they are allowed to use other means to find you and serve your papers, such as leaving them a legal adult in your house or mailing them to you.
Needless to say, knowing what to do after getting served is crucial. Not sure how to proceed? Here’s what to do:
1. Stay calm
The worst thing you can do at this point is freak out, and although that’s a normal reaction, it won’t do you any good. So stay calm and don’t panic. If you find yourself spiraling in negative emotions, drop everything you have to do for the rest of the day and calm yourself down.
2. Read and understand the documents
The summon tells you when and how to respond (either by showing up to court or filing an answer as your response), while the complaint tells you why you are being sued, usually in a brief, specific sentence. If you aren’t sure how to proceed, go to the court and ask for help from the clerk or help center.
2. Consider an immediate settlement
An immediate settlement is when you contact the plaintiff and try to settle the problem amicably out of court. Of course, you should do this in a calm manner; no yelling or threatening whoever is on the other end. If you know that you’re in the wrong and it’s not worth going to court, find out what the person suing you wants for them to drop the case.
3. Find errors
Just because you’re the one being sued doesn’t mean you’re the only one in the wrong. The process server or plaintiff may have made some mistakes as well, and if you prove it, you can counter the summons or complaint. Perhaps the process server unknowingly entered private property without permission or the summons have missing or erroneous elements. If this is the case, you can try to have the case dismissed.
4. Research the law
To understand what you are being sued for, research the laws in your area. Doing this can help you get a better result out of your case and will prevent the court from getting frustrated with you.
5. Talk to a lawyer
The cost-effectiveness of getting a lawyer depends on the type of case you are facing. If you’re only getting sued in a small claims court, it may not be worth it to get a lawyer. For example, if you are getting sued for $600 and a lawyer costs $300 an hour, it’s better to handle the case without one.
If you just got served, the best thing to do right after is to gather yourself and study the summons and complaint in your hands. Reacting negatively or trying to escape the court will get you in even more trouble. That said, whether it’s a small claim or something bigger, don’t hesitate to ask the court for help or an experienced lawyer if you’re not sure how to proceed.