What should I do if I have been sued?
If you have received a court document notifying you that you are a defendant or respondent in a legal action, you need to review the document carefully. In Arizona, there are time limits which require that you respond timely and, if you do not do so, the case can be decided against you without any evidence or your participation.
Once you receive the legal action, you should contact an attorney to set up a consultation and bring the documents with you. You should try to meet with an attorney as early as possible instead of waiting until the deadline to file your Response/Answer because it may take the attorney a few days to gather the information necessary for that document. If you need additional time to file your Response/Answer, you should ask the other party, or their attorney if they have one, if they will agree to an extension of time and have that agreement in a written form.
How do I decide if I should bring a legal action?
A formal legal action is not always necessary to resolve a conflict. If you cannot resolve the conflict with the person or company with whom you have a dispute, you should contact an attorney to discuss the risks and benefits of, and alternatives to, bringing a formal legal action. In some situations, a dispute can be resolved with demand letters, direct negotiations, or the assistance of a mediator.
If the conflict cannot be resolved without legal action, you should carefully consider the potential risks, potential benefits, costs, time commitments, and other factors involved before deciding to bring a lawsuit. An experienced attorney should be able to help you perform an initial assessment of these factors, which may change as additional facts are discovered, but she or he will not be able to provide you with any guarantees or promises regarding the ultimate outcome.
How do I choose an Attorney?
Choosing an attorney is an individual decision that depends highly on your personal preferences and comfort level. You should meet with the attorney in person and decide if you feel that the attorney is knowledgeable, professional, and trustworthy. Ask yourself if you feel comfortable talking honestly to the attorney and if you believe that they understand your goals.
You should also research the attorney before you meet with her or him. Find out if the attorney has a website and review it. There are also neutral sources of information such as the Arizona State Bar Association which lists a profile for every licensed attorney in the state which includes whether the attorney has had any public sanctions. Many law firms are also members of the Better Business Bureau which will list their rating and how many complaints they have received about the firm, and how those complaints were resolved. Several independent sites where clients can leave reviews are also available through an internet search.
Ultimately, the decision on which attorney to hire will be a combination of your research, the attorney’s fees, and, most importantly, your own judgment about your comfort level.
How much will a legal action cost?
Every case is different and it is generally not possible to provide you with an estimate of the ultimate costs of your case. Some attorneys will charge on a “flat fee” basis, meaning that they will only charge you a pre-set amount regardless of the amount of work that is involved in the case. Such cases are often uncontested or involve less work or conflict.
Many attorneys charge on an hourly-rate basis, meaning that you are charged a specific amount for each hour of the work that the attorney actually performs. Generally, a case involving a higher level of conflict will cost more than a case involving a lower level of conflict. You will generally also have to pay for expenses associated with your legal action, for example, filing fees, messenger fees, transcription costs, photocopies, and postage.
In certain cases in Arizona the Court can order the other party to pay your legal fees at the end of the case, or, less commonly, during the case. That Order then becomes a judgment which you can use to collect reimbursement for your legal fees from the other party.
What if I can’t afford an attorney?
Some attorneys will agree to a lower hourly rate or to a payment plan if you are in difficult financial circumstances. If you still cannot afford an attorney, there are several free or low-cost legal resources which may be available to you. Some of those resources are listed on the “Resources” page of our website.
In addition, the Maricopa County’s Superior Court’s website contains a “self-service” center which includes both the forms you may need to file as well as specific instructions regarding procedural matters.
How long will a legal action take?
Every case is different. The amount of time that a legal action will take to conclude depends on several factors. Some of these factors are within the parties’ control, such as their willingness and ability to settle the case, their compliance with applicable rules and timelines, and the number of claims being brought. Other factors are not within the parties’ control such as the Court’s availability, the complexity of the case, the amount of discovery that is needed, and the schedules of witnesses and attorneys.
In general, the Courts in Arizona favor moving a case forward without substantial delays.
How can we stop the legal action?
If you have chosen to bring the litigation and you are the plaintiff/petitioner, then you can stop the legal action at any time before you have the defendant/respondent served with the legal filings. If you serve the defendant/respondent and they file their response, then you will need either the other party’s agreement or the Court’s permission to end the litigation and you may be required to pay the expenses that the other party incurred as a result of the legal action.
If you have been sued and you are the defendant/respondent, you can end the legal action either by a legal motion or an agreement. If the legal action has certain procedural or substantive defects, the Court may agree to dismiss the action. Alternatively, the legal action can end if you and the other party can reach a mutually acceptable settlement agreement. If neither of these options is available to you and the plaintiff/petitioner does not agree to voluntarily dismiss the action, then you will need to have a trial to resolve the conflict.
Do we have to go to trial?
Many cases are resolved without the need for a trial. The Courts encourage parties to resolve their conflict through ADR – Alternative Dispute Resolution – which can take several forms. The parties may reach an agreement with the assistance of their attorneys, a mediator, or a judge who is not assigned to the case but agrees to help the parties reach a resolution. Generally, both parties will need to compromise in order to reach a settlement without having a trial.
The parties can agree to resolve a case any time before a ruling is made by the judge or jury. Agreements reached earlier in the case, however, will save the parties substantial expenses and time.
If the dispute cannot be resolved between the parties by a voluntary agreement or compromise, then a trial will be held for a judge or jury to decide the dispute.
What if I don’t agree with the Court’s decision?
After the judge or jury has issued a decision, you may have the option to appeal the case to a higher court to challenge the parts of the decision with which you do not agree. There are strict timelines to file your notice of an appeal and if you do not meet those timelines then you will lose the opportunity to challenge the ruling.
In addition, a proper legal basis for a challenge to a judge or jury decision must be present. Mere disagreement is not a sufficient basis for a higher court to change the ruling. You should contact an attorney who handles appeals in order to assess the potential success and costs involved with an appeal.