Have you been sued in Harris County, Texas ?
Updated: Apr 19, 2019
If you have received a citation and petition, congratulations, you have been sued.
But don't panic.
The first thing you need to understand is the process.
A lawsuit begins when a party called the "Plaintiff" files a petition (sometimes referred to as a complaint) in court naming you, or your business, as a "Defendant." The Plaintiff will need to file the case with the appropriate court, obtain a citation, and then serve the documents on you. Generally, "service" means that a person, who is not a party to the case, gives you a copy of the citation and petition. You must file your answer by 10:00 AM on the Monday following 20 days from the receipt of the citation and petition to file your answer.
The petition contains a brief factual basis for the Plaintiff's claims, legal theories upon which the Plaintiff's claims are based, and a prayer for relief.
Your answer must include a response to the allegations contained in the petition, and may include any affirmative defenses. In some instances, your answer may include counterclaims against the Plaintiff, third-party claims against another person, or cross claims against another defendant sued along with you.
Another option is to file a motion to dismiss the Plaintiff's complaint. A motion to dismiss is filed when the Plaintiff's claim has no basis in law or fact. A cause of action has no basis in law if the allegations, taken as true, together with inferences reasonably drawn from them do not entitle the claimant to the relief sought. A cause of action has no basis in fact if no reasonable person could believe the facts pleaded.
Assuming service is proper and you do not file an Answer, the Plaintiff could obtain a default judgment against you. This means that court will enter a judgment in favor of the Plaintiff for the relief sought in the petition (money, injunction, etc.). As such, the Plaintiff may then take further actions to collect the judgment against you, regardless of whether the Plaintiff was actually entitled to such a judgment as a matter of law.
Such post judgment collection actions could include, garnishment of wages, bank accounts, and the filing of liens against your personal property.
So needless to say, you should file an answer or get an extension before 10:00 AM on the Monday following 20 days after you have been served.
Once you have filed your answer, you may now engage in discovery. Discovery is the legal term for the process whereby the parties obtain information and documents in an attempt to narrow the issues for trial. The various mechanisms to conduct discovery include, interrogatories, requests for production, requests for admission, and depositions.
At some point you may need to mediate the issues in your case before going to trial. Mediation is an attempt by the parties to reach a resolution in the case before proceeding to trial. In a mediation, a person called a "mediator" reviews the case and shuttles back and forth between the two parties in an attempt at settling the claims. If you reach an agreement as to all the issues, then the case is over and the parties must abide by the settlement. If not, your next step is to proceed to trial.
Trial is where the parties submit their respective cases to a judge or a jury to determine which side is entitled to a judgment.
A a judgment after trial is the end of the road....... unless someone decides to file an appeal that is.
This is a brief synopsis of what litigation looks like. There are, of course, many bumps in the road that often occur that only an experienced trial lawyer can help you navigate. That is why it is important to talk to an attorney before you embark on this journey.