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You've Been Sued - Now What?

You’ve Been Served With Summons. What Do You Do Now?
NOTE: You can look up the status of your lawsuit
in Cook County by looking it up on the
Website of the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

The knock at the door and when you answer a Deputy Sheriff hands you some papers. You’ve been sued! You’ve been served with a Summons and a Complaint in a lawsuit filed against you or your business. What do you do now?

You must act quickly. The Summons tells how, when and where you have to respond to the lawsuit. Usually you will only have a short period of time to respond. For this reason you should not ignore it and you should not set the Summons aside.

The Complaint outlines the claims made against you. Some of the allegations may not make any sense or may be an exaggeration of the facts which gave rise to the lawsuit. Try not to take it personally. The allegations are only one side of the story and you will have a chance to deny those facts and tell your side of the story.

The most important thing is to act immediately after you are served. Call your attorney immediately. If you don't have an attorney relationship, you must find an attorney as soon as possible. Ask friends and business associates to recommend an attorney. Find an attorney with experience in business disputes.

ADVICE TO ALL BUSINESS OWNERS: Establishing a strong relationship with an attorney is one of the best long term investments you can make in your business. Over the long term you will save money by discussing legal issues involving your business. The more your attorney knows about your business, the better you can avoid potentially expensive mistakes by taking proactive measures.

It is very important to preserve all evidence relative to the facts asserted in the Complaint. You should take steps to immediately preserve all records on your computer. Collect all the papers which relate to the claims in the Complaint. Do not delete anything from your computer.

Do not discuss your case with anyone but your attorney. Statements made to others (even in emails or on Facebook) can be used against you. Involvement in a lawsuit can be a nightmare experience, but it is a risk for every business. The experience can be lot easier on you if look for experienced counsel to help get you and your business through the process.

Outline plans for your case with your lawyer. Discuss with your lawyer how much the case could cost and what outcome you can expect. Ask for an estimate and work out a budget on fees and expenses. Like any other business relationship, a written fee agreement which describes the scope of the work and fees is sound business practice. Although most of the litigation process is difficult to predict, a budget and scope of work will focus on what must be done to conclude the case or settle it. The discussion should include a step-by-step timeline for the discovery process and preparation for trial.

Trials only happen in a very small number of cases, but lawsuits are rarely resolved without preparing for trial. Trial preparation usually takes about 18 to 24 months.

Settlement: It is almost always a good idea to try to settle out of court, and most cases do settle long before trial. Judges and experienced attorneys always encourage parties to settle their differences even from the very beginning of litigation. The following points should be carefully considered when discussing whether to settle the lawsuit out of court instead of going to trial:

  • The amount claimed and the real value of the suit;
  • Length of trial;
  • How long before the case goes to trial;
  • Possible delays in getting to trial and/or length of trial;
  • Your honest assessment of the chances of winning at trial;
  • Whether there are similar cases achieving positive or negative results;
  • If there could be unfavorable publicity for either side if there is a trial;
  • Potential disclosure of trade secrets or other confidential business information;
  • Weaknesses in your evidence;
  • Weaknesses in other side's evidence;
  • The possibility of having to pay the other side's attorney's fees if you lose.

Once you have carefully considered the facts and all of these factors, you and your attorney will be able to make a decision on whether you should settle out of court.

Experience Does Matter: In hiring an attorney one of the most important factor is the experience and reputation of your attorney. George Bellas and the attorneys of Bellas & Wachowski have been assisting small business owners and litigating lawsuits for over 40 years. Other attorneys have recognized George’s superior skills and he has an excellent reputation amongst other lawyers. George will personally guide you and your family through the ordeal of a lawsuit. Contact George at 847.823.9030 Ext: 219 or george@bellas-wachowski.com for a consultation. Our initial consultations are free.