You Got Served! What to do when you’ve been sued

**Please note that this blog post does not constitute legal advice, and is provided for general information purposes only. If you are being sued and need help drafting your defence, please consider officially hiring a lawyer or paralegal**

One of the most intimidating experiences in the world is getting sued. Even if you know the allegations are not true, the mere fact of the allegations being leveled against you make you wonder where you went wrong, what you could have done better, and whether you need to make changes to avoid making the same mistakes again.

However, one thing people may not realize is the necessity of defending themselves. A lawsuit is not just an allegation of wrongdoing, it is the start of a legal process that depends on timing and evidence. So if you’ve found yourself in the unfortunate position of getting sued, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

1) Start drafting your defence…immediately!

Usually, you would find out about a lawsuit when you have been “served”, or when someone from the opposing side has given you a copy of the documents showing that they are suing you. This is usually in the form of a document called a “Statement of Claim” (or “Plaintiff’s Claim” in small claims matters), where they lay out the grounds for which they are suing you.

What you may not know is that, once you’ve been served with that document, you have a limited amount of time to respond to those allegations. For example, if you and the Plaintiff both live in Ontario, you have only 20 days to respond to those allegations by filing a “Statement of Defence”. You would be surprised how quickly those 20 days will go, especially if you are working full-time and have little free time for yourself.

I should also mention that the consequences of not responding on time can be very serious. If you do not respond on time, or at all, the plaintiff can do something called “Noting in Default”, which is a move that tells the court “I notified the defendant (you) of the lawsuit, and he chose not to respond. That means he admits all the allegations I made against him, and I should be entitled to damages (money) without having to go to court”. This could lead to a substantial sum of money being awarded against you, and the plaintiff could then take steps to collect that money from you or your assets.

2) Serve your defence on the plaintiff, and file it in court

Just like how you were notified of the lawsuit against you, you need to also notify the plaintiff of your intention to fight the lawsuit. So once you have finished drafting the Statement of Defence, you will need to serve a copy on the plaintiff, and also file a copy with the courthouse. It is important to do both these steps, because it shows that you’ve done three important things:

  1. you responded to the allegations against you;
  2. you have notified the plaintiff of the step you are taking in the lawsuit; and
  3. you have notified the court of the step you are taking.

3) Contact the plaintiff (or their lawyer)

If you’ve been served with a Statement of Claim, and believe that there has been some mistake, it might be best to contact the plaintiff to explain the situation, and see if there is a way to resolve the dispute without going to court. For example, if you believe that the plaintiff is suing the wrong person, or you believe that they have you mixed up with someone else, it is important to contact the other side and let them know that this is the situation. You may find that the plaintiff still wants to go ahead with the lawsuit, but it may also lead to discussions of a settlement before getting into court.

4) Start budgeting financially for the defence

Whether you intend to hire a lawyer to defend you or not, it’s always important to have some money set aside for handling this issue. This money can be used to either hire a lawyer to handle the defence for you, or to help you negotiate a settlement with the plaintiff. This is especially true for small businesses who are still trying to increase their profitability; the price of a settlement can be much more cost-effective than defending a lawsuit in court.

Even if you intend to defend yourself, it’s still important to budget financial resources for the lawsuit. If you are unable to settle your differences with the plaintiff, it may mean having to proceed to trial to resolve the dispute. Getting to that point will cost you time and money to collect evidence, including potential witnesses and experts, and the possibility of losing your defence in court.

5) Evidence is the key

A key to your defence is going to be the evidence you present to the plaintiff and the court. This evidence is the only thing that will allow you to convince the plaintiff to settle, or for the judge to rule in your favour. Once you have drafted your Statement of Defence, you should start turning your mind to the evidence you will need to support your version of events, and what it will take to get that into the record.

Having this evidence available early on in the lawsuit can also help you settle the matter effectively and early. If the plaintiff sees that you have enough evidence to at least mount a strong case in your favour, they might be less inclined to take their chances in court. They might be willing to settle in order to obtain a favourable and guaranteed outcome as opposed to gambling in court.

If you have been sued in Small Claims or Superior Court of Justice in Toronto, and need help with your defence, contact Sherif Rizk for a free consultation.

Sherif can be contacted by email at sherif@jurislawoffice.com, or by telephone at (905) 677-7246.

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