By: LINDSEY O'NEILL, ESQ.
Whenever someone asks me how to deal with being sued, I'm always reminded of Robert Frost's words that "the best way out is always through." Once you receive a threatening letter from a lawyer, a copy of lawsuit filed against you, or even the famous last words of the disgruntled that they'll "see you in court," you will likely experience a variety of very common reactions. Like Robert Frost said, though, the only way out is through.
Common Reactions to Being Sued:
Shock and fear. If you've just received a threat of legal action, you're probably pretty freaked out. Most people experience extreme distress about the financial and personal impact of the possible outcomes. Common questions at this stage include: How much will I have to pay in damages? What will this do to my reputation? Could this put me out of business? What will it cost to hire an attorney?
It is not uncommon for defendants in a lawsuit to experience feelings of overwhelm, stress, depression, anxiety, disruption in their personal relationships, inability to concentrate on daily matters, or even physical illness. These symptoms often endure, at varying levels, throughout the litigation process.
Anger and denial. In this phase, many people go into "super-defense" mode. How could he/she/they do this to me after all I've done for them? Who do they think they are? They can't do that to me! I'll show them!
However, recognize that this is an opportunity. It's an opportunity not only for you to resolve this particular matter, but also to make changes on a go-forward basis so that you can (hopefully) avoid a similar situation in the future.
How to Cope:
Thankfully, we can hire lawyers to advise us the best way to handle it all and even take over a big portion of the responsibilities. So, since you have to deal with it on some level, how do you cope with being sued?
Try to relax. This happens to a lot of people. Remember, just because you've been sued doesn't mean you’re a bad person or you've failed. A lot of people get sued for a lot of different things. Sure, sometimes people get sued for making a mistake (or sometimes for something intentional). But, for many common types of lawsuits, a lot of other people have made the same or similar mistakes. Even if you're innocent of the allegations, a lot of people have also been wrongfully charged and there are a lot of people out there with an ax to grind.
Get informed. The first step in coping with a lawsuit is to get informed about the process. Talk to a lawyer about what to expect, what kinds of time limits are in place, whether you have a good basis upon which to dispute liability or claimed damages, and whether settling out of court or defending the case at trial would be more beneficial to your situation. Obtaining this kind of information base about what can be anticipated will has been shown to greatly improve coping abilities. Defendants can then prepare themselves and begin to react strategically, rather than emotionally, to the various phases of the legal matter. After all, a lawsuit is, in part, a strategic game of sorts.
Keep tabs on your psychological and emotionally state. Being sued is one of the most stressful experiences in life. Get counseling if needed or confide in someone you trust. You probably have a lot of thoughts racing through your mind and you'll need to process those. Increased stress or inability to manage the emotional and psychological aspects of litigation can only prevent you from fully participating in your own defense.
Participate responsibly in the litigation. Nobody knows what happened better than you and the person who sued you. Not their lawyer, not your lawyer, not any witnesses and not a judge or jury. Your lawyer is only equipped with the factual tools you can provide him or her. So, get involved, be candid with your lawyer, and try to stay focused on solutions.
Trust your lawyer. Your lawyer knows the lawsuit game better than you do - they're supposed to! Understand that some things you may want to say won't help you legally. Trust that your lawyer will do what they can to protect you from unintentional admissions of wrongdoing, will advocate for your best interest, and will give you as straight an answer as possible to your questions.
Let go. Ultimately, you will have to make a decision about how to resolve the matter. Whether that mans paying a settlement, fighting the charges, or taking it to trial and putting the decision in the hands of a judge or jury. If it was all up to you, this wouldn't be happening in the first place. So, try to let go of the desire to control the outcome. You do the best you can - and what happens is what happens. That's all anyone can do. If you've participated responsibly in the process, trusted your lawyer, and assessed the situation as best you could, then the final step is letting go of it all. Once the matter is finally resolved, then you don't need to hold onto it anymore - you can move on with your life.
If you've been sued, I sincerely hope these tips have helped you. Being sued isn't fun. But you can get through it. Contact an attorney in your area, sooner rather than later, to walk through this process with you and help protect your legal rights. Good luck!
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