lawsuitThere are few things worse than opening the door or mail to find lawsuit papers, a summons, and one’s name listed as a defendant in court proceedings. The legal system can be difficult to navigate and filled with traps for the unwary. Getting legal help can be challenging, especially given the sky-high rates that legal fees and costs can run.  If you have been sued as a defendant in a lawsuit, read on for some tips on what to do next.

The Lawsuit Papers.  The paperwork you have received generally consists of a Summons and Complaint, as well as some other court forms.  If the Summons and Complaint are stamped with a case number, then the lawsuit has already been filed.  Some entities or individuals will send draft copies of lawsuit papers to individuals to frighten or threaten them. Check the lawuit papers carefully to determine whether the case has actually been filed.

Initial Hearing.  If the lawsuit has indeed been filed, the first thing you need to do is check to see if there is a hearing set.  If the lawsuit has been filed in Los Angeles County, go to the Los Angeles County Case Summary online docket, and type in the case number of your case. The website will give you information on the status of your case, and whether a hearing has been set. If a hearing has been set, you may need to get a lawyer quickly.

Service. Make a note of the date you received the lawsuit papers. The date they were provided to you will be known as the “service date.” Service refers to a party’s obligation to make sure that the defendants they serve are given copies of the lawsuit papers personally. Once service is made, a defendant has thirty (30) days to file an Answer to the lawsuit.  If no Answer is filed in this time frame, the Plaintiffs will be able to take a default judgment against you (ask the Court to enter judgment against you because you failed to appear).  Judgments can be recorded with the L.A. county recorder’s office and then later show up on your credit report.  No matter what you do, make sure you get a lawyer to respond on your behalf before the 30-days is up from the date you were served.

Personal Service.  Also make sure that you were “personally” served.  You must receive a copy of the lawsuit papers personally – not through mail, fax, fed-ex, or other “mail” means of transmission. If you have not been personally served, you may be able to argue that service was not properly made on you. However, you should consult with a lawyer to make sure you can make these arguments.

Insurance. If you have been served with a lawsuit, another “must-do” is to check with any insurance company for which you have insurance. This can be auto insurance, renter’s insurance, homeowner’s insurance, personal umbrella, or other insurance.  The insurance premiums that you have been paying for over the course of years could prove to be useful if there are provisions in your insurance policy that will help pay for your legal team or indemnify you from liability. Do not presume or assume that your insurance does not cover the lawsuit – make the claim anyway and wait for the insurance company’s response.

Getting Legal Help. Finding the right lawyer can be challenging, and will depend on the kind of lawsuit that has been brought against you.  Different lawsuits are handled in special ways, and some kinds of lawsuits have unique defenses associated with them, that require specialized experience. For example, if you were sued for slander or defamation, consult with a lawyer or law firm that regularly handles such cases, because they will have a roadmap to Anti-SLAPP defenses that you can raise in response to the lawsuit, which, if you win, will entitle you to getting your attorneys’ fees paid by the people who sued you.

Trying to Handle it Without Legal Help. Some people named in lawsuits try to handle the lawsuit themselves, believing that they can figure out the basics and ask the Court for help. This often results in disastrous consequences. The legal system is complex and very difficult to understand. Clerk and courtroom staff tend to have little patience for parties without lawyers.  “Breaks” are rarely given to parties without lawyers, and they often find themselves not only getting zero help, but worse yet,  harsh criticisms, impatience, and no sympathy at all from courtroom staff.

Low-Cost Legal Service Providers.  Axis Legal Counsel offers affordable legal service to individual defendants as part of its Access to Justice program.  Having devoted more than 700+ hours to pro bono and modest-means legal help,Axisprovides legal help and assistance to individuals, families, and small businesses that are named as defendants by much larger or powerful plaintiffs.  Axis works with defendants to defend lawsuits strategically, cost-effectively, and in the best interests of the client.

Axis’s practice areas range from  individual or business disputes, employer-employment lawsuits, breaches of contract, fraud, slander/defamation, civil rights, wills/trusts/probate matters, and numerous others. As a general practice firm,Axisprovides clients with services in multiple practice areas.

If you have been sued in a lawsuit in Los Angles, California, and need affordable legal representation, contact us a info@axislegalca.com or (213) 403-0130 for assistance.

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