No one likes a lawsuit. Whether filing one or finding yourself on the receiving end of one, they can cause stress, anxiety and an upending of daily life. They can be expensive, take months—even years—to resolve, and often result in hurt feelings and ruined relationships. For co-op, condo and HOA board members and residents, the situations are no different, where litigation levied by or against a corporation, association, board or even individual resident can lead to countless sleepless nights for all parties involved.
Turn to the Experts
When that unwelcome registered letter arrives in the mail and is opened to reveal notice that a lawsuit has been filed, they should remain calm. “The first thing the defendant should do is consult their lawyer,” says Adam Cohen, an attorney at the law firm of Pullman & Comley in Bridgeport, Connecticut. “The deadlines, procedures, and strategy are very difficult to navigate without one. In most jurisdictions, the defendant’s first official action is to file an ‘appearance’ form with the court and the plaintiff, which acknowledges the complaint and provides contact information for himself or his lawyer to be used going forward.”
The second thing to do is get in touch with the right people—and whatever the specific issue, the 'right people' are the building’s legal counsel and insurance carriers.
Should a board find itself named in a lawsuit, “They should notify their attorney and make sure that the case is brought to the attention of the board’s insurance carrier as soon as possible,” says David L. Berkey, a partner at the Manhattan-based law firm of Gallet, Dreyer & Berkey, LLP.
Robert J. Braverman, a partner at the law firm of Braverman Greenspun, PC in Manhattan, agrees. “The board should have the managing agent immediately forward the legal papers to the building’s attorney so that he or she can ensure that an appropriate and timely response is interposed and to its insurance broker so that the appropriate insurance companies can be placed on notice. Very often there is insurance coverage available under the building’s general liability or directors’ and officers’ liability insurance policy.”