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So Sue Me!

Never been hit by a lawsuit? Prepare for your day in court.

Lawsuits are an ugly fact of life. Sadly, in our litigious society, if you haven't already had the pleasure, you're probably overdue for one or more of these uniquely time-consuming, aggravating and expensive ordeals.

You'll know you're being sued when you receive formal notice by mail or in person. And after the shock and rage subside, you'll find yourself holding a summons directing you to file a written response with the applicable court within a specified period of time, generally 30 days for state courts and 20 days for federal. What do you do now?

"Act immediately," says Atlanta attorney Ken Menendez, author of Taming the Lawyers: What to Expect in a Lawsuit and How to Make Sure Your Attorney Gets Results (Merritt Publishing). "Don't put the summons aside, thinking you'll get to it later. This is the number-one mistake people make, and once they've missed a deadline, they've really jeopardized their rights." Remember, if you're sued, a response must be filed on time. But that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be the one who has to file it.

First, determine whether you're covered by one of your existing insurance policies, for example, a homeowners, general liability or umbrella policy. Don't automatically assume you're not--check into it. If you think you're covered, contact your insurance company promptly. Otherwise, it may point to the fine print in your policy to deny its obligation to defend you and/or pay the claim.

Marc Diener is an attorney and author of Deal Power: 6 Foolproof Steps to Making Deals of Any Size (Owl Books/Henry Holt). This article contains general information only. If you are concerned about how these issues might affect you, seek independent counsel.

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