As a service provider in a litigious society, it’s only a matter of time before you face your first lawsuit from an unhappy client. If you’ve been served, it’s important to understand the process you’ll go through in order to resolve the matter, as well as what you should and should not do while you await your day in court.
The Legal Process for Contractors
The process of going to court starts when your former client — now the plaintiff — files a complaint with a court of law. The complaint states what the problem is, what and who caused it, what damage was done by the problem and a proposed solution. After this is filed by the court, you should receive a copy – referred to as “being served” your papers.
Upon being served, you and your attorney have a limited amount of time — determined by state and local law — to answer the complaint. The answer is a written legal document in which you refute the facts asserted in the complaint.
The process then moves on to court for a discovery phase, where you may be asked to supply any and all relevant information pertaining to the case: records of your work done, receipts and more. You may be interviewed under oath. You also have the right to obtain information from your former client.
What Should I Do First?
Receiving a summons to court can be overwhelming and you might not know who to contact first. The very first call you should make is to your insurance company to notify them of the pending lawsuit. Failure to do so could result in loss of coverage.
Next, call your attorney. If you don’t have one, find one. Your attorney is your legal representative in the court of law, and they are the person who will help you throughout the legal process. Hire someone you can work with who is knowledgeable about the area of law you’re working in.
Dos and Do Nots After Being Served
Do not reach out to your former client — this could give them a basis to add more to their case against you. If you must contact them, have your lawyer reach out to their lawyer.
Do not speak about the case unless your attorney is present. Any written or oral communications without your lawyer directly involved are up for grabs as evidence. Even so, don’t say or write anything you wouldn’t want to be repeated in the court of law. Even private communications — such as social media private messages or posts — are admissible. If you must speak with other contractors or subcontractors about your case, have your lawyer present during the company meeting.
Do find out the facts as presented by the plaintiff as soon as possible. If the problem is a result of the failure of materials, the manufacturer share some blame. If so, you can name them in your answer. Your lawyer and insurance company can help advise you.
Do remember that laws vary by location. You cannot obtain a decent defense by cobbling together advice given online. Having a good lawyer that you can trust and stay in contact with your insurance company is essential.
Dealing with Lawsuits
Dealing with lawsuits is an unfortunate fact of life for general contractors. The first time you get served can feel scary or overwhelming. Get a good lawyer, let your insurance company know and stay mum while waiting for court. Trust in your lawyer to help defend you and take a deep breath: most cases are settled before a trial even begins.