For most folks, the thought of being sued is troublesome, if not outright
terrifying. A lawsuit of any kind instills anxiety, fear, and many misunderstandings.
Usually this is a product of unknowns and uncertainties. The best way
to regain some peace of mind is through information and cold, hard facts.
As a public service to all small business owners, this blog will try to
shed some light on the dark nooks and crannies of a lawsuit by posting
a series of blogs we are calling “Anatomy of MN Lawsuit.”
These posts will break down a typical lawsuit into specific events, and
put each one into layman’s terms with the goal of relieving some
anxiety and calming some fears by discussing fact-based information of
what generally happens in a lawsuit.
Part 1: Genesis –There are Always Two (at least)
Like every “good” disagreement, a lawsuit starts with a complaint.
Someone has a problem, believes he has been wronged, and suffers from
some form of
injustice. This injustice is put into writing and the wrongs that are believed to
have occurred are lodged as allegations in a Complaint. These allegations
detail what occurred by identifying the people, describing the “facts,”
stating what law was violated, and what is wanted from the court to make
Because there are always two sides to every story (fascinatingly studied
scientifically and examined in movies, plays, and even television sitcoms,
known as the
Rashomon effect), the thing to remember is that these are only
allegations. These are not facts. On the other hand, they are not supposed to be fiction
either. Rather they are one person’s view of something that has occurred.
Can the Court Do That?
Like every good story, a Complaint begins with a description of the businesses
and people involved, the location where the events occurred, and where
the businesses do business and the people live. Seemingly mundane, these
facts are essential to establishing if the court being asked to right
a perceived wrong has any power or authority to do anything. This is called
Admittedly oversimplified, it is similar to being sued in Timbuktu, by
a Timbuktu resident (Timbuktuian?) in a Timbuktu court. How can that be
right if you have never been to Timbuktu, you don’t do business
in Timbuktu, and you didn’t even know there really was a place called
Timbuktu, let alone that it has a court of law? Generally, if this is
all true, the Timbuktu court probably has no jurisdiction over you and
no power or authority to order you to do anything.
You’ve Been Served
But before even this becomes important, you have to know the person has
a problem and that they are going to take you to a court to resolve it.
Even if the court is in Minnesota and not Timbuktu, you still need to
know you are being sued before the court gets jurisdiction over you and
has any power to do anything. To obtain this authority and have jurisdiction,
the Complaint that accuses you of being the reason for all that is wrong
in the world, must be served on you. Generally this means handed to you
personally or left with “a person of suitable age and discretion”
(usually over 12-13 years old) at the place you live.
But serving the Complaint alone is not enough for you to know a court of
law is involved. Usually attached as a cover to the Complaint is a required
and separate document called a Summons (to call, to beckon or command).
This document’s name should be taken literally and means a court
expects you to make an appearance, explain yourself, and address the allegations
against you. In other words, to step up and tell your side of the story.
Next: What do the Counts mean and why “in excess of $50,000.00”?