So You’ve Been Sued. Now What?


So You’ve Been Sued. Now What?

If you are reading this, then odds are you could use some condolences, as well as answers. Being served with a lawsuit is a disorienting experience, one that tends to raise the same basic questions regardless of who has been sued: What am I accused of? How much will this cost? Can I sue this plaintiff back?

In Minnesota, as in most jurisdictions, a summons is required by law to provide you with some basic information about the case, specifically the name of the plaintiff and his or her attorney and the deadline to respond (which is almost always 21 days after you have been served with the lawsuit). The question most people have is often not answered by the summons, or by anyone else: what do I do now?

For some people, the answer to that question is as surprising as it is simple: contact your insurance company. If the lawsuit arises out of a car accident, or if a guest at your home sustained injuries from slipping on ice, for example, contacting your auto or home insurer may seem obvious. However, many are surprised to learn of what sorts of coverage a home or renters insurance policy may provide. For example, many homeowners’ insurance policies may provide coverage for defamation, even though that type of lawsuit ostensibly has nothing to do with your home. In other words, if you have been sued for statements made on social media that a plaintiff claims are harmful and untrue, your insurance policy may provide coverage for those claims.[1] Some homeowners’ policies may also provide coverage for injuries allegedly caused by your pet, even if the incident did not take place at home.[2] Of course, if coverage is provided, the insurance company can arrange and pay for your legal defense.

As noted above, most lawsuits require a response within 21 days of when a defendant is served. If a defendant does not respond within 21 days, they run the risk of losing the lawsuit by default and having to pay whatever damages the plaintiff seeks. Rest assured, those 21 days will go quickly, and insurance companies may take several days to respond to your claim. Therefore, it is always wise to submit the claim as soon as you find out you have been sued.

Even if you notify your insurer right away, it still may take quite some time to find out whether it will cover your legal defense costs and/or any costs paid to the defendant.[3] If your insurer does not respond or does not confirm it will be hiring a lawyer for you, you may need to contact one yourself. For cases in Minnesota, the Minnesota State Bar Association website offers attorney directories to the public, which are fantastic resources for those who might not know a lawyer who can help defend their case. Once you have identified a lawyer who has agreed to represent you, the lawyer can respond to all claims made in the plaintiff’s complaint.

Nothing in this post is legal advice, but it is meant to offer some practical guidance on navigating a fraught and uncertain situation. If you have been sued and would like to discuss an approach tailored to your specific needs, please call the attorneys of Parker Daniels Kibort LLC at 612-355-4100.


[1] A plaintiff alleging defamation under Minnesota law must establish four elements: (1) that the defendant communicated a statement to a third party; (2) that the statement was false; (3) that the statement tends to cause reputational harm; and (4) that the recipient of the statement understands that it refers to a specific individual. McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 725, 729-30 (Minn. 2013)

[2] Minnesota has adopted a “strict liability” statute relating to dog owners.  See Minn. Stat. Ann. § 347.22.  Under that statute, “[L]iability is absolute. It makes no difference that the dog owner may have used reasonable care; negligence is beside the point. Past good behavior of the dog is irrelevant. Neither the common law affirmative defenses nor statutory comparative fault are available to the defendant dog owner.’” Anderson v. Christopherson, 816 N.W.2d 626, 630 (Minn. 2012) (quoting Lewellin ex rel. Lewellin v. Huber, 465 N.W.2d 62, 64 (Minn. 1991)). The strict liability framework offers all the more reason to contact your insurance company right away to seek potential insurance coverage for any lawsuit involving injuries caused by a pet dog.

[3] In Minnesota, the duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Briggs, 464 N.W.2d 535, 539 (Minn. App. 1990), The duty to defend an insured on a claim arises when any part of the claim is arguably within the scope of the policy’s coverage. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Nat’l Comput. Sys., Inc., 490 N.W.2d 626, 632 (Minn. Ct. App. 1992) In other words, it is often the case that an insurance company may agree to pay for a defendant’s attorneys, but the insurance company would not agree to pay the full amount of a settlement or judgment to the plaintiff.