If you learn that someone has sued you in court, you may have only a brief time to respond. You will need to prepare legal documents and probably engage a lawyer, all within a matter of days of being served with the legal documents.
- When Does the Court Action Begin?
When someone with a legal claim begins an action, he or she has to file documents with the court. The person with a claim, called a “plaintiff” in legal terms, can file a writ of summons, an originating summons, an originating motion or a petition. (Rules of the Supreme Court, O. 5, r. 1.) Most plaintiffs decide to use a writ of summons.
The plaintiff must arrange to have the writ personally served on you. This means that someone delivers a copy of the document to you or your authorized representative in person (not by email, mail, or leaving a copy on your doorstep). If you believe that you have been served with a writ or other legal document announcing a court action, your next step is to enter an appearance in the court action.
- Entering an Appearance and Preparing a Defence
You have only 14 days after service of the writ of summons to enter an appearance to the writ action. When you were served with the writ, you may have received a “statement of claim” document as well or the statement of claim may have been indorsed on the writ. The statement of claim details the plaintiff's claim and the loss and damage the plaintiff alleges that he or she has suffered.
Sometimes the plaintiff serves the statement of claim after serving the writ. He or she has 28 days after serving the writ to do so. After the plaintiff serves the statement of claim, the defendant has 14 days to serve a defence on the plaintiff. A defence is a document listing any defences to the claims the plaintiff makes. If you do not enter an appearance within 14 days of service of the writ or you fail to serve a defence within 14 days of service of the statement of claim, then the plaintiff may seek a default judgment from the court.
- Why You Need a Lawyer
A default judgment is very serious. When the plaintiff seeks one, he or she can tell the court that you failed to appear in the case and ask for the court to enter judgment against you. If the court says yes, you could face the enforcement of the judgment against your bank accounts or other assets as a result of ignoring the court action. Since time is short, it is a good idea to contact a lawyer as soon as you receive service of a writ.
To find out more about responding to lawsuits in The Bahamas, visit Gonsalves-Sabola Chambers online or call the office at +1 242 326 6400.