It’s all a Matter of Time


Posted on: May 18th, 2016

So you’ve decided you want to start a lawsuit.  Or maybe it wasn’t your decision and you’ve been sued.  Regardless of whether you’ve decided to retain an attorney or not, there are many things to begin considering, but one of the most pressing is the issue of time.

Not only do you need to be aware of how long a law suit can take (months to years), you need to understand that there are time deadlines as to how long you have to respond or file things with the court.

If you are the party that wants to bring the lawsuit, called a “plaintiff,” there are time limits to how long you have to sue.  These limits are known as “statutes of limitation.” There are different limits for different circumstances; for example, the statute of limitation for breach of contract is four years, while a lawsuit for defamation must be brought within only one year.  If you don’t begin your lawsuit before the time has passed, you cannot bring it at all, no matter how just your cause or how much you believe you were wronged.

For a person defending against a lawsuit, called a “defendant,” there are similar, but far shorter, time limits in which you have to respond.  Under the rules of civil procedure, once you have been served with the complaint, (the law suit) you typically have only 20 days to respond. Times vary so you must check with the court or an attorney!  If you do not answer the complaint within that time, the plaintiff can get a “default judgment” against you, meaning that the plaintiff effectively won the lawsuit without ever having to provide evidence or go to trial. This means the plaintiff can now collect a money judgment against you by seizing your assets, putting liens on your property or garnishing your wages — typically, regardless of how weak the plaintiff’s claim was.  While there are ways to get a default judgment reversed, it is far more difficult to get one set aside than it is to answer on time and avoid the judgment in the first place.

Time is critical, no matter which side you are on.  If you have been served with a complaint or feel you have been wronged, you should consider speaking with an attorney to ensure that you don’t lose your rights because you didn’t act quickly enough.  The next topic we will cover is what to expect when you first go into a consultation with an attorney.