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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

HELP! I'VE BEEN SUED!


lawsuit litigation panic
In a word, DON’T PANIC! While it’s rarely fun being the defendant in a civil case (or criminal, for that matter), it’s not the end of the world.  Note that while the Summons says you have 30 days to respond, you really don’t want to wait until day 29 to start thinking about what to do.  Getting a jump on your case, learning your options, and forming a plan of action can go a long way in lowering your blood pressure.


If you live in California and you’re being sued in Small Claims Court, go to your local county Law Library and look at Everybody’s Guide to Small Claims Court in California (Nolo Press).  You can also try scheduling an appointment with the Small Claims Adviser at (800) 244-8898.  If you are in a civil limited or unlimited case (determined by how much money is involved), you might consider hiring an attorney.  Darn near every county has a Bar Association with an attorney referral service.  The referral service at the Riverside County Bar Association can be reached at (951) 682-7520.  


Another option is to educate and represent yourself in court (it’s not as scary as it sounds).  Some of the resources available at the Riverside County Law Library that may help the self-represented litigant include California Forms of Pleading and Practice (Matthew/Bender), California Practice Guide (Rutter) Civil Procedure Before Trial (West), the California Codes, California Rules of Court (and there’s a whole bunch of rules you need to know for civil litigation), and Represent Yourself in Court (Nolo Press).  If you don't happen to live in California, then some generic resources that may be helpful are, first, your state codes as they related to Small Claims Court.  When you're done with that, you might try looking at American Jurisprudence Pleading and Practice Forms (West).  You might also want to take a look at your local Superior Court Website (darn near every court in the union has something on the web - odds are your local superior court has not just basic information but what forms to fill out and basic court procedure, to boot!).


So, while there are no guarantees in life, don't panic if you are sued and don’t wait until the 11th hour to take action.  If you give yourself enough time to prepare and have the stomach to deal with the stresses of dealing with attorneys, courts, clerks, etc., then you'll have a good chance of returning triumphantly from the legal arena.  No guarantees, but a good chance.