You have just been served with (given a copy of) a Summons and a Complaint to appear in court. You are now the defendant in a lawsuit. What are your options?
TIP: If you have been sued in District Court, but not in Small Claims Court, this section will still apply to you. However, since other District Court cases must follow more formal rules, you may want to consult a lawyer or do additional research.
Read the papers carefully. Make sure you understand what the other side is saying.
- What does the other side say in the Complaint? Is everything that person says accurate? If it is not accurate, write down what you think is correct. What is your side of the story, point by point? What proof do you have for your side of the story, point by point?
- Are there are differences between the plaintiff’s (the person who filed the suit) story of what happened and yours? Are the differences important?
- Figure out how to answer each statement that the plaintiff makes. Generally, you will answer the statements affirmatively or negatively.
- Would it be fair if you paid something but not as much as the other side wants?
- What are the deadlines? By when must you respond? Put it on the calendar. You must file a Notice of Intent to Defend, which appears on the bottom of the Summons, within 15 days of being served the Complaint and Summons. In some cases, you have 60 days to respond (if you are out of state or own a business with a resident agent). Read the Rule: MD Rule 3-307
- Did the plaintiff (the person who filed against you) ask for a “judgment by affidavit”? Look on the Complaint to see if that section was filled out. This means that they are asking the judge to decide in their favor without a trial. See the Complaint form.
Review Your Options
- Do Nothing- You can ignore the lawsuit and you will likely lose by “default”.
- Point Out Technical/Procedural Problems- You can find some technical challenges and delay the process while they are fixed.
- Negotiate- Try to negotiate a settlement.
- Defend Yourself- File an Intention to Defend and prove your case in court.
- Make a Claim against the Person Who Sued You- If the other side actually owes you some money, you can file a counterclaim.
- Sue the Responsible Person- Is there anyone else who may have caused all or part of the harm? If so, involve that third party in the lawsuit.
- Make a Claim Against Another Defendant- If a co-defendant is really the one responsible, file a cross-claim.
- Propose Paying in Installments- If you agree that you do owe the plaintiff money, consider trying to pay in installments.
Decide on Your Strategy
Keep track of your deadlines and make sure you respond on time. Review your options in detail. Make sure to consider your personal goals along with all of the options. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of all of the options.
If you are not sure, seek some legal advice on what to do. Even if you handle the case yourself, it can be very useful to ask an attorney for some advice at key points where you need to make a decision. Working with an attorney as an advisor rather than as your full representative is sometime called “unbundled” legal services.