Being served with a lawsuit from an employee can trigger a lot of emotions ranging from anger about being sued, to disappointment after having treated that employee so well, to fear about what could happen as a result of the lawsuit.
A process server is responsible for delivering a copy of the Summons and Complaint. Once you or your company receive the lawsuit, you have been “served”.
At FairLaw Firm, we are used to being hired to help clients once an employees is claiming wages, commissions, overtime pay, or minimum wages, as well as employees who claim to be victims of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation. Our experience tells us that employers often fall into one of these five traps after being served with a lawsuit.
Here are five (5) things that you should not do once you are served with a lawsuit for a former employee:
1. Do Not panic. You and/or your company are being sued, which means that your former employee is not trying to put you in jail. While you may have a problem you have to deal with, it is most likely going to be a problem that you can solve with money. The court systems have deadlines and procedures to try and make sure that the right result happens. The process is going to be longer and more frustrating than anyone would like and unfortunately, the process is not perfect. Even with those drawbacks, we still have the best legal system in the world. You are not going to go through this process alone, and so there is no reason to panic.
2. Do Not Delete/Destroy. Each party has an obligation to retain any evidence that exists one it becomes reasonable to think that the information or materials could be relevant to a lawsuit. Any information that is deleted or destroyed could lead to the court imposing sanctions – meaning that either the judge will believe or it will tell the jury to believe that the information destroyed would have supported your employee’s claims. Don’t destroy evidence – it will only hurt you in the end.
3. Do Not Delay. A party served with a lawsuit is required to respond within a certain period of time. Most often, a party served with a lawsuit must respond within about 3 weeks (20-21 days), depending on if the case was filed in a Florida state or federal court. If you do not respond to the Complaint in time, through a lawyer, then then the judge can decide the case against you or your company and enter a default (meaning you cannot defend yourself) and then a judgment for your employee. While it may be possible to ask the judge to allow you to present your defenses, you will end up paying more in legal fees because of the need to file motions to undo everything that was already done. The sooner that you contact FairLaw Firm, the sooner that we can begin to review the Complaint, formulate a defense strategy with you, and begin to help you.
4. Do Not Do It Yourself. Companies (regardless of whether they are LLCs, INCs, etc.) are not allowed to represent themselves in lawsuits (other than potentially in a case filed in small claims court). Companies can only defend themselves in court when represented by an attorney licensed to practice in that court. If you needed an operation, you would not operate on yourself. Instead, you would go to a doctor (more specifically a surgeon) who underwent years of schooling, training, and experience.
5. Do Not Hire A Lawyer On Price Alone. There are other lawyers in South Florida who are going to be less expensive than FairLaw Firm. Other lawyers are going to charge you less per hour than the lawyers at FairLaw Firm, but the question you need to be asking is whether cheaper is better? The lawyer and law firm you hire are, like you, representatives of your company. Not only will they be representing you in written submissions, but also when it comes to in-person events like depositions, mediations, court hearings, and trial. Experience also factors into the rates charged by attorneys, and FairLaw Firm’s founding partner has over 20 years of litigation experience. When you require the best representation for your company to both represent you in the litigation and guide you through the process, consider whether you would like to go through this journey is an economy car or in a well-built machine. Ask yourself what how much it could cost you to hire the wrong lawyer.
Litigation is now part of the business landscape in South Florida, and either avoiding or successfully navigating that landscape is where we can help. This blog post is not legal advice and is not intended to be a step-by-step guide for how to defend against a Complaint from an employee, but is instead intended to serve as a general outline for what not to do in general terms. We do, however, tailor our response to each individual situation and client.