You’ve Been Sued . . . Now What??

May 18, 2018

A man walks into a farmer’s barn and hands him papers. The farmer discovers he has been served with a lawsuit.

Reactions typically vary from panic to choosing to ignore what has been received. Both are poor choices. There are instead logical steps to take.

Start saving all documents that have anything to do with what the lawsuit is about. There’s a duty with a lawsuit to preserve evidence. The person being sued doesn’t need to gather evidence. But he should take appropriate actions so documents are not inadvertently destroyed. That isn’t easy. Documents are on paper and electronic devices, including in emails. For electronic documents, stop automatic deleting or overwriting that occurs with a system — at least for documents related to the lawsuit.

The duty to preserve documents applies to all electronic documents, whether on a server, laptop or smartphone. If a laptop or cellphone crashes, don’t dispose of it. And if a device with relevant information on it must be re-purposed or wiped clean, be sure documents or the drive are first duplicated.

It matters whether claim is small or large
Determine if the lawsuit is in small- or large-claims court. The top of the paperwork will identify if the case has been filed in small-claims court. If a lawsuit is small claims, a farmer can handle it himself. Wisconsin small-claims procedures allow individuals and businesses to present their own cases. But it’s important to arrive in court at the scheduled time. If a farmer or anyone else being sued doesn’t show in court, the court will enter a judgment against him for the amount the other side requested. That’s true even if the farmer was in the right and would not otherwise have needed to pay.

A farmer being sued can have a lawyer accompany him to court if he chooses. But the amount at risk may not justify spending much money for an attorney. The maximum amount of damages that can be awarded in small-claims court is $10,000.

If the lawsuit isn’t for small-claims court, send a copy of the lawsuit to an insurance company or broker – even if uncertain if insurance covers the issue of the lawsuit. Delaying giving notice of a lawsuit to an insurer — if it affects the insurer’s ability to defend the person being sued — can void coverage. Don’t waste insurance premiums that have been paid.

Deadlines must be met
After sending a copy of the lawsuit to the insurance company or broker, also send a copy of lawsuit paperwork to an attorney. In a large-claims case there is a deadline to serve the other side with a formal response to allegations in the complaint. The summons states how many days the person being sued has to serve his answer to the party suing. If the deadline isn’t met, the other side is entitled to a judgment — even if the case is completely without merit. It’s always a good idea to hire a lawyer as soon as possible to handle a large-claims lawsuit, in part so deadlines and other details aren’t overlooked.

Regardless of lawsuit size, it’s always unpleasant to be sued. Court disputes are scary, stressful and sometimes expensive. The worst thing anyone who is being sued can do is bury his or her head in the sand and hope the lawsuit goes away on its own.

Court proceedings are intimidating. But a farmer can take comfort in knowing that most lawsuits settle out of court. Still it’s always best to seek the advice of a qualified attorney with questions or concerns.

© 2018 Agri-View.  Madison, WI.  Reprinted with permission.

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