Reading the papers you've just been served, your heart quickens in fight-or-flight mode. Part of your mind can't believe your eyes. You've just been sued, and you aren't sure what your next step should be.
To people who aren't lawyers or well-versed in the law, considering what to do once you've been sued can be a frightening thing. A small misstep might do more harm than good, or even get you shackled to testimony you didn't realize you were making. Who do you talk to, and what do you say? This legal quandary is even more difficult when the people involved in the dispute are members of the same community. What do you do if you are being sued as a member of the board for something that you know nothing about? Who do you call first?
In co-op and condo communities, a legal issue can pit neighbor against neighbor, and hard feelings will sometimes remain long after the argument has ended. Even in the most cordial of such communities, legal disputes can arise between a resident and the board, between two or more residents, or between a group of residents and the board or management company. Knowing where to step and how to respond after being slapped by a lawsuit can mean the difference between a quick end to the conflict or a protracted legal battle.
Making Your First Moves
After you've received word of the lawsuit, the first thing you should do is call your lawyer, advises David L. Berkey, managing partner of the Manhattan-based law firm of Gallet Dryer & Berkey LLC. "Second, notify your insurance company. It may be the liability carrier that is notified. If it's an individual, they should advise their carrier as well as the co-op's carrier on the suit," he says.
Acting properly after being served in a lawsuit is partly a matter of avoiding doing certain things. A person who has been served as party to a lawsuit would be foolish to ignore it, says attorney Steven Ganfer, a partner in Ganfer & Shore, based in Manhattan. "The lawsuit will not go away," he says. "After you've notified your counsel, follow up to make sure they're on top of [the suit]."