Lawsuits Against LEOs: So Says The Defense!!
The formal response to a lawsuit is called the Answer. Now I know what you are thinking, but this is a legal response to the allegations in the lawsuit. Although you may prefer to provide a response similar to the famous defense opening in My Cousin Vinny, such a response would not be productive! You can give that response, but use your “inside my head” voice.
The formal response to a lawsuit is important. The biggest complaint I hear from LEOs is that the lawyer for their agency was not aggressive enough when responding to the lawsuit. Answering a lawsuit takes a great deal of time, strategy and finesse. Most courts also require you to assert defenses called affirmative defenses. Some affirmative defenses are lost if you do not assert them in your Answer. In short, filing an Answer to a lawsuit is probably best left to the lawyers. However, your input is important!
At a minimum, you should meet with the attorney filing the Answer on your behalf. Why? Simply put, because you were there and the lawyer was not! The allegations in the lawsuit will be based upon a set of facts. These facts are usually set out in the lawsuit. See my previous post entitled, Lawsuits Against LEOs: Further the Plaintiff Sayeth Naught! These facts may be inaccurate for a number of reasons. The Answer is your opportunity to correct those inaccuracies or at the very least, put the opposing lawyer on notice that the facts will be in dispute. This will be important later in the lawsuit.
You should also meet with the lawyer to ensure that she is aware of all of the evidence available for your defense. As I discussed in a previous post, do not assume that the attorney hired by your agency or by you personally is aware of all of the evidence that you can use for your defense! For example, do not assume that the lawyer is aware of the information available from a TASER® download or the tremendous support available from TASER International®. A great litigator may have no experience with firearms or pursuit driving. I routinely field calls personally or as General Counsel for the Georgia Fraternal Order of Police from attorneys who seek “hands on information” they can use to defend LEOs. Share the evidence you preserved and any evidence you know exists to help with your defense.
Finally, do not be afraid to ask questions. Does the lawyer believe you did anything wrong? Does she believe this lawsuit is frivolous? Has this person filed other suits against LEOs? Do you need your own attorney as I discussed in a previous post in this series?
The Answer is the first step in your defense. Get involved, stay involved and be prepared to go the distance. Stay safe.