A Complete Guide to Serving and Hosting Responsibly

Chapter 3: Liquor Liability Lawsuits: Everything You Need to Know
Part 2: What to Do if You're Sued: A Step-by-Step Guide


There are few things more stressful than being slapped with a lawsuit. Sometimes, it can be tempting to ignore the suit altogether. However, if you fail to respond to a plaintiff's complaint within a certain amount of time, you may set yourself up for bigger woes. For instance, if you ignore the complaint, a judgment may be awarded against you by default.

In turn, your wages can be garnished, your bank accounts attached, and your personal assets collected. You've worked too hard to let that happen.

So before resorting to an "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" defense tactic, let's review how you should address a lawsuit against you or your business.

Step 1: Know Your Timeframe for Responding to the Lawsuit

Regardless of how you decide to respond to a lawsuit, it's important to know the clock is ticking. Many lawsuits offer a timeframe of 20 days from the date that you were served with the summons and complaint to file your response with the appropriate court. As a rule of thumb, always read the summons that you were served.

As we mentioned earlier, failure to respond in a timely fashion may result in the plaintiff being awarded a default judgment of what they requested in their complaint. Best to err on the side of caution and respond – people have a tendency to aim high when suing for damages!

Step 2: Evaluate Your Options

Once you have been served with a civil complaint, there are several ways you could respond. Short of settling out of court with the plaintiff, you have four options:

Option 1: File an answer. As we mentioned in the previous section, an answer is how a defendant usually responds to the plaintiff's complaint. This gives you the chance to address and defend against the complaint's allegations and legal claims. This will set the wheels of litigation in motion.

Option 2: File a motion to dismiss. To buy yourself more time to file an answer, you can ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit with the appropriate motion. This isn't an exhaustive list, but to give you an idea, some feasible reasons for dismissal include…

  • The court doesn't have personal jurisdiction over you.
  • The plaintiff didn't properly serve the summons or complaint.
  • There is no legal basis for the plaintiff's claims.

Option 3: Sue the plaintiff. You may decide to pursue your own claims against the plaintiff. These are called "counterclaims."

Option 4: Do nothing. Let the record show that we don't endorse this option, but it is an option. If you don't respond to a complaint, be prepared for the plaintiff to request a default judgment from the court.

Remember, these may not be all your options. If you have questions regarding a specific lawsuit, please seek legal counsel.

Step 3: File a Response with the Appropriate Court

Once you've decided on your course of action (other than ignoring the complaint), you need to complete the response and file it accordingly. You may be required to pay filing fees or submit a fee waiver application by a certain date. Many courts allow you to file electronically, and some may only accept electronic responses.

Step 4: Send the Plaintiff a Copy of Your Response

Essentially, any document you file with the court must be duplicated and submitted to the plaintiff or their attorney. Giving the documents to the other party is called "service of process."

Step 5: Prepare for the Next Phase

Your next step will depend on the type of response you filed. If you submitted an answer, the lawsuit moves forward into the discovery phase. For counterclaims, the plaintiff must file an answer to your answer and counterclaim. If you filed a motion, the court makes a decision on that motion, which means you'll have to wait for a hearing to be scheduled. One thing is certain: this journey is going to get expensive pretty darn fast.

Next: Part 3: Why Are Liquor Liability Lawsuits So Expensive?

Download eBook [PDF]

Grab-n-Go Information

food services eBookS
Download free eBooks and in-depth guides on growing your business and keeping it safe.
Browse eBooks
Sample certificates
See a sample Certificate of Liability Insurance, the proof of coverage you need for most contracts.
Download pdf
Sample Quotes & Cost Estimates
See what insurance really costs: actual quotes by policy & specialty.
Learn More
Ask A Question
Submit your questions about restaurant insurance and get answers from our experts.
Learn More