Don’t make things worse than they are already.
It is never pleasant to be in a situation where someone may file a lawsuit against you. Whether this is the result of an accident, a business argument, or the inability to pay a debt, some common principles apply across the board that should be considered.
1. Do not panic.
Many times, defendants in lawsuits say things, send emails or letters, or take actions that are harmful to their situation. Remember that you have a number of days to respond to a lawsuit, and you have the ability to get an extension to file an Answer or Motion to Dismiss.
The best thing to do is nothing whatsoever until you have obtained appropriate legal advice. Oftentimes, the situation is not nearly as problematic as you might think.
2. Do not communicate with anyone but your lawyer or others who will be under the evidence privileges.
Depending upon state or federal law, confidential communications between you and your spouse (as long as your spouse keeps this confidential), your psychotherapist, your priest, rabbi, and, possibly your CPA, can remain confidential. However, anything you say to anyone else may be discoverable. This includes emails and texts. Please remember that e-mail stands for evidence mail, unless it is strictly between you and someone who has the privilege apply.
3. Safeguard all evidence.
Discarding or destroying evidence can not only be illegal, but also counterproductive to your case. Do not alter any records or do anything that will affect the evidence in your situation without first consulting with your lawyer or insurance carrier.
In addition to this, be very careful to make sure that you provide complete copies of anything and everything that may be pertinent to your lawyer or insurance carrier. Make a full copy, and hand mark each page by numbering so that you and your lawyer and the carrier can be absolutely sure that you have given them every page. If in doubt, provide the information so that they can evaluate whether it should be shared or kept confidential.
4. Preserve your memory.
The chances are that your memory will not be nearly as good as you think it will be in the future. Start a memo on your computer called Attorney Client Privilege Information and write down everything that you can remember about the situation in as much detail as possible, keeping in mind that much of what you think you will remember in a year or two, may at that time feel more like figments of your imagination. Share this document with your lawyer and insurance carrier, subject to the other rules described below.
5. Notify any and all insurance carriers.
Any insurance carrier that provides coverage needs to know about the claim. Sometimes your homeowner=s policy or your car insurance policy will cover things that you did not think they would handle. You have an obligation to notify your insurance carrier as soon as you know that a claim has been filed. Failure to provide prompt notification and to cooperate with the carrier to reduce exposure may cause you to lose coverage.
If there is any doubt as to whether the carrier will cover the situation, you should consult with an independent lawyer separate from whatever lawyer the carrier may provide to you. Consulting with an independent lawyer can help you make sure the carrier does provide coverage. This also provides you with a competent lawyer or claims adjuster and an appropriate defense.
6. Make sure you have competent legal counsel.
Anyone who does his own legal work has a fool for a client. — F. Lee Bailey
Lawyers are rated by each other in the Martindale-Hubbell directories, where we are assigned AV, BV, or CV ratings. The AV-rated lawyers are normally in the top 15% and the BV-rated lawyers are normally in the top 30%. You can go to www.martindale.comto review lawyers by specialty and rating.
You will usually be best served by using a lawyer who spends most of his or her time handling the type of litigation case that you have, as opposed to using a Ageneral practitioner.
7. Seek out an independent lawyer.
Do not hesitate to have an independent lawyer serve as your own private counsel to make sure that the insurance carrier and your lawyer assigned by the insurance carrier do all of the right things.
Lawyers and insurance carriers will typically do a better job defending someone if they know there is an independent lawyer watching. It can often be inexpensive and very helpful.
8. Confer with a Debtor or Creditor Lawyer.
If the lawsuit might cause you to lose significant money or assets, you should determine what should be done with respect to preserving your monies and assets.
In some states it is a crime to transfer assets with the intention of avoiding creditors, and in other states it is not. It is usually not prohibited to spend whatever assets would be lost for normal costs of living, and to safeguard assets that cannot be touched by a creditor, which will normally include IRAs, assets owned by your spouse if he or she is not being sued, and certain other categories that will vary according to state law.
Carefully review your situation, determine what your choices are, decide what to do, and get it done. Many people will let a lawsuit, or a legal situation consume their entire life for the duration of the matter. Don’t let your life or the life of your loved ones be ruined over worry and circumstances that are beyond your control. Every lawsuit eventually ends, and when completed you may look back and question whether what you did and what you didn’t do made things better or worse. Dale Carnegie’s book entitled How to Stop Worrying and Start Living is required reading for many of our clients. It provides very good guidance on how to handle problems, and what problems can do to our lives. Learn what you need to do to handle a lawsuit and get it done so that the rest of your life can be as good as it can be.