by Sharon Junes
They’re the words every entrepreneur and small business owner dreads, “I’ll see you in court!”. Nowadays those words are tossed around as readily as sour glances. They can be uttered even in the wake of the pettiest and most unreasonable of grievances. In the vast majority of cases, they will also be a bluff- a tactic employed by an individual who wants to let off steam and make themselves feel important. Every once in a while, however, an employee, client, vendor or even competitor will follow through on that threat and bring formal charges against your business. When this happens it’s vital that you know how to respond for a quick and easy resolution that mitigates any damage to your reputation.
Don’t bury your head in the sand
This can be an extremely upsetting and stressful time for you and your first instinct may well be to ignore it and dive headlong into your daily operations. However, such an approach will inevitably end in disaster. The faster you come to terms with the reality, the more control you can exert over it.
Do contact your lawyer immediately
Once you are served with a lawsuit you have 30 days to respond and so it’s essential to contact a law firm right away. If you have a lawyer you already trust to have your back in this matter this will be highly advantageous. Your lawyer can help you to better understand the claims made against you, the extent of your liability and the means by which you can go about defending yourself. This puts you in the driver’s seat and allows you to go about building a case with a sense of purpose and assurance.
Don’t contact the plaintiff directly
You may feel that given the chance to converse in a civil and reasonable manner that the plaintiff will see reason and drop their charges against you. Nonetheless, it is not recommended to contact the plaintiff directly. Anything you say to them can be used against you (and you’d better believe that their attorney will try and weaponize even the most innocuous comments).
Do talk to your insurer
Regardless of the outcome you face a gruelling and expensive time while this matter is resolved. Fortunately, this may be covered by your general liability insurance. After you’ve spoken to your lawyer. If the claim is covered by your policy it may pay for at least a significant part of your legal fees, court fees or any damages you have to pay to the plaintiff should a judge rule in their favor.
Don’t leave it all to your lawyer
Even when you are confident in your representation and have a business to run, it is a mistake to leave the legal battle entirely up to your lawyer. It behoves you to check in on them every once in a while and help in whatever way you can to build your defense case.
Finally, even a negative result needn’t be the end of your business. Part of knowing what to do in the face of litigation is knowing how to move on. Don’t try to cover anything up. Simply admit to and publicly apologize for any wrongdoing and be as public as possible in disclosing the measures you’ll put in place to ensure that the same mistakes are never repeated.