What Should I Do When I Have Been Served With a Lawsuit?

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Being served with a lawsuit whether the lawsuit is against you personally or against your business is a stressful thing. While the summons and complaint give you instructions on your deadline to respond to the complaint, those instructions are not complete. This article will help you remain calm when you are served with a lawsuit in Georgia by providing you with more detail on your rights after you have been served.

If you have been served with a lawsuit, you must act quickly to protect your legal rights. Whether the lawsuit has been filed against you personally, against your business, or even if you have only been served on behalf of a member of your household or company, you should contact an experienced litigation attorney immediately to consult with you, review the lawsuit, and advise you what you
should do next.

How do you know if the document you just received is an actual lawsuit or not?

In Georgia, the document that initiates a lawsuit is called a “Complaint” and the person or entity filing the Complaint is called the “Plaintiff.” Every person or entity that the Complaint is filed against is called a “Defendant.” When a Complaint is filed in court, the Clerk of Court issues another document called a “Summons.” The Summons must be delivered along with the Complaint and directs each defendant named in the Complaint to file an Answer to the Complaint within 30 days of the date the Complaint is served. In most cases, lawsuits must be personally hand delivered (served) to each defendant named in the Complaint. Service by regular or even certified mail is not legally sufficient. However, Georgia law allows plaintiffs filing lawsuits to ask the defendants they are suing to waive their right to be personally served with copies of the Complaint and Summons and to instead accept service by mail or similar means. By agreeing to waive your right to personal service, you as a defendant receive extra time to file your Answer to the Complaint and avoid having to reimburse the plaintiff for their costs of having you personally served.

If you receive a notice in the mail that a lawsuit has been filed against you and the plaintiff has asked you to waive personal service and you do not respond within the time frame designated by the plaintiff, then the plaintiff must still have you personally served before the lawsuit can move forward. When you are personally served with the Complaint and Summons by either a sheriff’s deputy or a court appointed process server, then you still have 30 days to file an Answer. But by electing not to waive personal service, you can be ordered by the court to reimburse the plaintiff for their expenses in having the sheriff or process server come out to your home or workplace to serve you.

If the document you have received is either a notice of a lawsuit and request to waive personal service or an actual Complaint and Summons, you should contact an experienced Atlanta litigation attorney immediately. If you do not file an Answer to the Complaint within 30 days, you run the risk of having the Court enter a judgment against you by default, which can be enforced just as if you had gone to court and lost. It is important to remember that just because someone has filed a lawsuit against you does not mean that you will be held legally responsible for anything the lawsuit alleges. Just like criminal indictments do not make a person guilty of what they are being accused of, having a civil Complaint (lawsuit) filed against you or your business does not mean you are legally liable for anything alleged in the Complaint. If you ignore the Complaint, however, fail to file an Answer within 30 days, and allow a default judgment to be entered against you then legally it will be as if you admitted every allegation in the Complaint and put up no defense.

AUTHOR: Jeremy Hayes, Boling Rice LLC

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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