When a lawsuit is filed, there are at least two parties involved — a plaintiff and a defendant. A plaintiff is a person, a personal representative, or a corporation who claims that they have been wronged and are entitled to money damages. A defendant is the person who has been sued. The lawsuit begins when a plaintiff files a complaint. The complaint is a document that outlines the general facts of the case and the plaintiff’s theories of why he is entitled to recover damages. The complaint must be served on the defendant(s), usually by personal service or by certified mail. The complaint is served with a summons. The summons notifies the defendant of the lawsuit and instructs the party when an answer must be filed. The answer is a document that allows the defendant to admit or deny the statements made in the complaint. The answer also allows a defendant to raise certain legal defenses to the complaint.
It is important for a defendant not to ignore the deadline to answer the complaint, because doing so can lead a court to decide in favor of the plaintiff and award money damages. Many times, a defendant will have insurance that covers any allegations being made in a complaint. For example, if you are being sued for an auto accident, you probably have car insurance. If someone was injured on your property, you probably have homeowner’s insurance. If you believe you have insurance for the claims being made against you, immediately contact your insurance agent to report the claim and to provide information about the complaint. Failing to do this could result in an insurance company refusing to pay for any money damages awarded in the lawsuit. If you do not have insurance for the claims being made against you, it is important to contact an attorney so that they can protect your interests in court.
When you are a defendant in a civil lawsuit (a matter not involving a crime) you need to consult with a civil defense attorney who specializes in litigation (i.e., matters pending in court). Civil defense attorneys tend to specialize in a specific area. Some examples include: auto claims, homeowner claims, business/contract claims, property disputes, etc. Before hiring a lawyer, you should determine if a particular lawyer has experience in the subject matter relevant to the complaint. If you have insurance that covers a specific claim, your insurance company will typically hire and pay the lawyer for you.
Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs