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Lawsuits. How They are Started?

lawsuit - Fremstad Law

Many non-attorneys have misconceptions about how lawsuits start. For example, there is a common belief that something must be filed with a court. This is true in Federal Court, but in North Dakota and Minnesota State Courts, among other states, a plaintiff may start a lawsuit by serving a summons and complaint on a defendant, without ever filing anything with a court. As a result, I often hear comments from clients or potential clients that “they received some legal papers but there was no file number” and thus they may not fully appreciate the importance of the documents, which can result in default.

Another misconception non-attorneys have is that a summons and complaint must be personally served (i.e. personally handed to) a defendant. While that is probably a common way to serve a summons and complaint, they can also be served by leaving a copy at the defendant’s home with a person of suitable age, by certified mail with return receipt requested, and by publication of the summons in a newspaper, among other ways. As a result, someone may receive legal papers in the mail or some other method and, again, not fully appreciate the importance of the documents, which can result in default.

As a result of the variety of ways lawsuits can be started and the lack of understanding about how lawsuits are started, Attorneys in various cases have spent many hours litigating whether legal papers have been properly served on someone. If you own a corporation, LLC, or other entity, you may have to hire a registered agent in the state in which you operate to accept service of legal documents.

If you suspect that you have a pending legal issue that may result in a lawsuit, you should hire an attorney before the lawsuit starts to 1) confirm it is commenced properly, 2) if and when it is commenced properly, respond appropriately to prevent any default against you, and 3) avoid having to pay an attorney to litigate whether proper service has occurred. At Fremstad Law we can help you avoid these issues. Please call us at 701-478-7620. We're happy to answer any questions you may have. For more information,:view our Civil Litigation practice page.