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What to do if you get served with legal proceedings?

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Regrettably from time to time businesses and individuals get sued.  Usually the first notice of this arises when legal proceedings are served.

Legal proceedings could comprise any of the following documents:

  • Writ
  • Complaint
  • Claim
  • Summons
  • Statement of Liquidated Claim
  • Application
  • Cross-Claim
  • Third Party Notice

These documents can be served personally (actually handing it to you) or, in the case of companies, by posting or delivery to its Registered Office (which may not be the company’s principal place of business and could be at the office of the company’s external accountant), or in some instances by handing the documents to a person over the age of 16 at the residence or place of business of the person to be served.

The important thing is that when you are served with legal proceedings you should read them and immediately seek legal advice.  This is because, often, documents need to be filed to protect your position within as little as 10 days of service, failing which the person suing you (usually called “the plaintiff”) can obtain a default order against you.  In the case of claims where money is sought from you, a default order is an order from the court that you pay that sum of money together with interest and costs.

Some of the legitimate modes of service described above may mean that you never become aware of the fact that you have been sued until it is too late (for example, the documents might have been sent to a company’s registered office, being one not located at its principal place of business and the document was not on-forwarded to you).  Fortunately the law allows default judgments to be set aside in these circumstances provided you have an arguable defence.

Even if you do not dispute the claim, you should seek legal advice, because it may be necessary to still negotiate with the plaintiff.

Sometimes we may need to negotiate an extension of time to respond to the claim, or alternatively go straight into negotiating a settlement of the claim.

The work we would do at this stage would be to read the document, find out whether there are any facts or legal principles upon which you could sustain a defence, ascertain your goals and advise on the best strategy to achieve those goals.  Sometimes this can be done a minimal cost.

You may have a legitimate counterclaim against the plaintiff – it may be that you had previously decided not to pursue the counterclaim, but now that you are being sued, you now wish to do so.

The important thing is that you do not put the documents in the “too hard basket”.  You must act immediately.

Contact one of our Dispute Resolution & Litigation lawyers if you have any questions.  They will quickly respond to your queries.

Author:  Philip Colman