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I Have Been Served Now What?

Lawsuits are extremely common in today's United States. Anyone is entitled to file suit against anyone else, for any reason. Therefore, it is not unlikely that at some time in your life, you may find that a suit has been filed against you. You may know that it is coming, or you may be completely surprised. Regardless of the circumstances, the process is similar, although not identical, in various jurisdictions. Please note that the following information is not intended to represent legal advice. It is highly recommended that you consult a qualified attorney whenever you are involved in a legal situation. For general informational purposes, here is a guide to the stages of a lawsuit.

Filing an Answer
If you have been served, you will have a specific amount of time to file a written answer. In your answer, you will address the complaint against you. You will either admit or deny the allegations, as well as present defenses against the allegations. In your answer, you can also declare a countersuit against the plaintiff on the same situation. If you have grounds for a complaint against the plaintiff on an unrelated issue, then you will need to file a separate complaint.

Alternatively, you may file a pre-answer motion to dismiss. If you and your attorney genuinely believe that there are no grounds for the complaint, or the statute of limitations has passed, a motion to dismiss may be appropriate. The motion to dismiss asks the court to rule that there is no legal remedy for the complaint and drop the action altogether.

Even if you plan to act as your own representative, it is highly recommended that you contact an attorney at this time. He or she will be able to answer your questions, advise you as to how long you have to file the answer, determine whether there are legal or technical defenses to the complaint, and help you properly formulate your response. The answer is counted as the defendant's first legal pleading, and the information contained within will form the groundwork for your legal case. Therefore, it is very important that an attorney be involved.

Next Steps
What happens next depends largely on the nature of the case. Other parties may become involved, requiring new summons to be served. The plaintiff may file a reply to your answer. Either side may file various motions with the court. The case may also be settled out of court at any time.

Assuming that the case continues, it will eventually move into the Discovery phase. During Discovery, both attorneys will attempt to discover as much information as possible to help build their respective cases. Depositions (sworn statements) may be taken. Witnesses may be interviewed. Documents may be subpoenaed. There are extremely stringent laws and regulations governing Discovery. Again, the assistance of a qualified attorney is highly recommended during this time.

Most civil cases are eventually resolved outside of court. Possible resolutions include settlement, summary judgment and voluntary or involuntary dismissal. Often non-trial resolutions other than settlement are based on technicalities or errors that are made by one side or the other. It is important to guard yourself against an unsatisfactory resolution by retaining a qualified attorney during the process.

If the case goes to trial, having an attorney at your side can help you navigate the courtroom process. Although the process is relatively simple and follows specific guidelines, most people are intimidated by the courtroom setting. Having your attorney by your side can ease the discomfort and help you to maintain focus.

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