For a small business owner or an individual, being served with a civil lawsuit can be a jarring experience. Many people cannot help but take it personally. Others make the mistake of ignoring it and hoping that it goes away. While there is no reason to panic after receiving a summons and complaint, it is important to act quickly and decisively. You only have a limited time to secure reliable legal counsel and prepare a response.
New York civil procedure dictates that defendants in civil suits must file a response — called an answer — within 20 days of receiving personal service of a summons and complaint. The deadline is increased to 30 days if service is accomplished by other means. Therefore, you should act promptly to ensure your attorney has enough time to prepare a response:
- If the subject of the suit is something for which you have insurance coverage — such as a car accident or a slip and fall at an insured property — notify your insurance company immediately.
- Begin gathering and preserving any records related to the matter. Directing or allowing such records to be destroyed could have very adverse consequences.
- Do not be tempted to answer the complaint yourself. While it may seem straightforward to simply admit or deny each allegation, many initial objections and affirmative defenses must be raised, as well. Failing to do so because you proceeded without legal counsel may permanently waive these arguments.
- Do not be tempted to reach out to the plaintiff personally. Anything you say could ultimately be used against you at trial. Any negotiations should be carried out through your attorney.
These steps may go against your initial instincts following receipt of a civil complaint. However, the initial response is crucial and mistakes at this phase can prejudice you throughout the entire civil process. That is why you should immediately obtain the counsel of an experienced New York civil defense attorney.