Unfortunately, you have just received notice of the plaintiff’s complaint. You are indignant, irate, and ready to do whatever is necessary to defeat this frivolous claim. Once you have calmed down and are thinking rationally, there are several factors to consider.
Let’s say you are ABC contractors in my example from Part II. If your company is a separate legal entity (e.g. a corporation, limited liability company, partnership), then it must be represented by a lawyer, not yourself. Sorry, but that’s just the law and trying to do it yourself will only cause more problems.
However, if ABC contractors is just you, a sole proprietor, or if you have been sued as a person, be sure to send the form back to the district court saying you wish to defend. Otherwise, a default judgment will be entered against you. Once you get a date for the hearing, you must also consider what evidence you will need to win your case. One strategy may be to wait and see what the plaintiff produces as evidence. If the plaintiff cannot come forward with evidence that the flooring or installation was defective, you may not need to offer any evidence at all. However, it is better to be prepared to present a defense than to be unprepared and hope you won’t have to. In District Court, there is no “discovery,” an opportunity to learn what the other side has in the way of evidence before the hearing. Therefore, you must anticipate and prepare for the documents and pictures your adversary may possess.
“Documents. Pictures. Organization.” applies to the defendant’s case as well. ABC contractors may want to highlight the language in the contract which states ABC is not responsible for damage or misuse after installation. Then introduce photographs. First, show the judge a photograph of the floor just after installation. Then show the judge photographs taken during your inspection after the plaintiff notified you of the problem showing watermarks near the dishwasher and how the buckling of the floor originates or is most noticeable in that area. You have established a defense to causation. ABC Contractors’ contract and pictures presented in chronological order demonstrate that the floor was in good shape when it left and the damage arose afterwards.
If you can’t disprove the fact that the flooring or installation was defective, then attack the calculation of damages. Point out that you removed old flooring also and the entire project only cost $3000. Or show the judge that the repair estimate includes a different, more expensive tile or hardwood than was in the original contract. The plaintiff is only entitled to the floor he or she was promised, not a better one at your expense.
In your defense, consider any written evidence which may contradict the claim the plaintiff is making, for example, emails, letters, and receipts of payment which may demonstrate the plaintiff calculated the balance due incorrectly. Oral evidence may also be admissible, but it’s weight will come down to the judge’s view of the parties’ credibility which is anybody’s guess.
As a defendant, you should also be open to settlement. A good lawyer will know the weaknesses of his or her case and take that into the calculation of a reasonable settlement. Anyone representing himself in District Court should also. Being unreasonable and taking an “all or nothing” approach may result in nothing more than an appeal and more wasted time and money.