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 things right.
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 jurisdiction.
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”?