Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Dec 16, 2019

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Civil cases are initiated when a formal complaint is filed with the court and served on you, the defendant. The first thing you need to do when you find out you are being sued, usually when you are served with a complaint is to immediately contact an attorney. Do not wait. As most complaints will state, there is a set period of time, usually around thirty days, in which you may legally respond to the claims (with an Answer or other legal information) when you are being sued before a default judgment is entered against you. If you fail to respond, a default judgment for the amount of money named in the complaint is extremely likely, provided that the plaintiff has proved his or her damages. Once such a judgment is entered, it is usually impossible to get it modified or reversed.

An attorney, particularly one with experience in the area of law your lawsuit involves (automobile accidents, trespass, negligence or recklessness, et cetera), is most suited to give you the best advice on how to proceed.  S/he can tell you how to respond to the claims, what your defenses may be, if any, and how to prepare your case for trial.  In most cases, a retained (hired) attorney will serve as your agent in court, taking the responsibility for filing legal forms, talking to the judge, presenting your arguments and generally minimizing the impact of the lawsuit on your life.  An attorney is also usually skilled at negotiating, and can help settle your case before trial if that is the best option.

So, if you have been served with a complaint notifying you that you are being sued for a lot of money, you should contact an attorney right away. To find an attorney, contact your local bar association, or look through the FreeAdvice nationwide attorney database elsewhere on this site. You may also check your local yellow pages for the names of attorneys who can help you with your legal problem.