“YOU ARE SUMMONED and required to file an answer to the complaint in this case, a copy of which is hereto attached….” These are generally the first words you read on the papers handed to you by the sheriff’s deputy as he walks away and says “Have a nice day!” Your blood pressure rises and your heart thumps through your chest as you flip through the pages of the lawsuit which alleges some terrible facts about you and your company. You might be thinking, “Do you realize what this means? It means bankruptcy and scandal and prison! That’s what it means!” That’s exactly what George Bailey said when he realized Uncle Billy had misplaced the deposits in the 1946 classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. However, it was George’s reflection on the meaning of his life’s work and his re-discovery of the importance of his friendships and, ultimately, the support of his friends and family that saved the day for George Bailey. Once you have been sued, your lawyer can provide that support you hoped you would never need.
A lawsuit does not mean bankruptcy, scandal or prison. With guidance and counsel from a real problem solver, a seasoned lawyer, it is most likely your adversary will come to her senses and work toward an agreed resolution long before trial. In fact, the vast majority of all lawsuits filed (upwards of 95%) are resolved by settlement. See U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, “Appeals of Civil Trials Concluded in 2005,” NCJ 235187 (October 2011) at 2, http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/actc05.pdf. Even among cases that do not settle, where the plaintiff is fortunate enough to win in a civil trial, the median award is less than $30,000. While cases involving contract disputes tend to have higher median awards compared to other claims, the vast majority of contract cases arise out of business disputes and now include a large number of employment-related claims. Id. So, if you have been sued, you are in good company. You are extremely unlikely to ever have to appear in court. Even if you do, the statistical chances of facing financial ruin because of a lawsuit are extraordinarily slim. Build a good, day-to-day relationship with your business lawyer now to assure you have an open line of communication with a business-minded, legal advisor who will be at the ready when the need arises.