Steps for dealing with a lawsuit in Nigeria
A law suit is a civil case initiated against an individual over a dispute. A lawsuit can be initiated for an unpaid debt, a breach of contract, or any other type of disagreement. A lawsuit is commenced once an individual known as the claimant or plaintiff files the claim papers like the writ of summons/originating summons, statement of claim etc. with the court, and these documents (known as pleadings) are served on you. If you are sued, you are referred to as the defendant.
Step 1 – Find out why you are being sued
When you are sued the first thing to find out is who is suing you and why you are being sued. The best thing to do here is to immediately contact a lawyer. Do not wait. When a lawsuit is filed against you, there is usually a time period within which you must file a legal response to the lawsuit, this is most times about 42 days. If you do not respond within the stated period, the claimant/plaintiff may apply to the court to get a default judgment against you. A default judgment is a judgment entered by the court in the absence of a defence by the defendant. Once such a judgment is entered, it is usually impossible or at best extremely difficult to get the judgment modified or reversed.
Step 2 – Hire a Lawyer
The lawyer who reviews the lawsuit against you will be most suitable person to give you the best advice on how to proceed. The lawyer will advise you on how to respond to the claims, and what your defences may be, and in general an overall strategy for responding to the lawsuit. If you are happy with the strategy as proposed by the lawyer for defending the lawsuit, then you may hire the lawyer to take on the responsibility of not only preparing your defence, but also filing all necessary documents in court.
Step 3 – Preserve all relevant documentation
Once you’ve been served by the officer of the court – the Court Bailiff, in a lawsuit, then you should take care not to destroy any information that could be remotely connected to the matter in dispute. The information includes electronic data such as emails, accounting records, files, memos, or notes etc. If you try to destroy this information it could seriously jeopardise your credibility, and in fact could lead to criminal liability.
Collect and review the information to be sure you recall the facts as well as the surrounding events leading to the plaintiff/claimant filing the lawsuit against you. Although when you are sued, there is always the temptation to talk about the case or any information about the case with people around you to get their opinion, you should not give in to that temptation. The only person you should be speaking about your court case is your lawyer, especially because he is the only one who is precluded from revealing any conversations you have with him/her concerning the law suit, as those conversations are ‘privileged’ and therefore protected.
Step 4 – Explore out of court settlement
You should note that not every instance of a lawsuit leads to a court trial, in many instances, the parties might be able to work out a settlement arrangement, and in which case the claimant/plaintiff will agree to withdraw its case against you the defendant. The lawyer is very important in this process as well, as it’s his/her job to facilitate the negotiation/settlement process to potentially prevent the case from going to trial if this is the best option.
Have you or anyone you know been sued? You should definitely contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
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