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Tampa Civil Litigation Attorney

If you are served with a civil lawsuit, you have a certain amount of time to respond, or you could be found in default and a judgment maybe entered against you. A default judgment can be enforced just like any type of judgment. This means that your wages and assets may be garnished and your credit will be affected. If you take action quickly within the time allowed by law for a response, your attorney may be able to defend the lawsuit. Many causes of action have strong defenses, for example in a breach of contract suit some defenses might include the statute of frauds, the statute of limitations, or accord and satisfaction.

There is no substitute for an experienced trial attorney if you or your business is involved in a civil litigation. An attorney that understands the “ins & outs” of the courtroom proceedings has a distinct advantage in settlement negotiations. Many times cases can be resolved amicably through alternative dispute resolutions such as mediation or arbitration. But keep in mind the old saying “don’t bring a gun to a knife fight” particularly applies here when there is a lawsuit pending. The bottom line is that not all cases are settled, and if you end up in a trial before a judge or jury wouldn’t you want an attorney that has actual trial experience?

Samantha L. Dammer’ attorneys are experienced in the courtroom. Samantha L. Dammer has been trying cases since 1998, most notably in the civil litigation and child custody/family law practice areas. There is a difference between an attorney that drafts contracts and settlement agreements, and an attorney that knows how to defend these documents. Call 813-221-3759 to schedule an initial no-cost 30 minute consultation to discuss your rights with an experienced Tampa civil litigation attorney.

Do I Scare You?  How I Lose Some Prospective Clients

As you may know, I am a member of several “business-oriented” organizations such as the Small Business Resource Network, and South Tampa Chamber of Commerce.  In addition, I enjoy the opportunity to volunteer my time with incubator and accelerator programs such as Pasco County’s SMART Start, the Tampa Bay WaVE, and USF Connect.  As a result of this, I get to meet with 7-10 prospective business start-up and expanding business clients each week.  The majority of these folks are brand-new start up entrepreneurs with limited real world experience.  Sadly, many of these individuals have a very dim view of lawyers in general, and a precise fear of lawsuits and the thought of having to go to court.

Let’s face it — going to court can be scary for anyone.  I would imagine that even the most seasoned businessman would have some level of trepidation walking into a courtroom if his company has been sued.  In fact, even for the plaintiff in a civil suit, the litigation process can be unsettling.  Normal people are generally non-confrontational.  There are so many complicated rules and procedures that vary with the type of case and jurisdiction.

It should be noted that “going it” alone through the civil system is not usually an option for most business owners. This is because corporations and LLCs cannot practice law, and they must therefore hire counsel for representation if they are sued or if they need to file suit.  That’s what lawyers are for anyway — to hand-hold and counsel, as well as to advocate the client’s position to a judge or jury.

So how do I scare my prospective clients away from me?  At the risk of having this informative article turn into a blatant advertisement, I will simply state that in my initial client meetings I make no apologies for the fact that our firm handles civil litigation.  We moved our office to be a block away from the courthouse for a reason.  My first civil trial was in November of 1998, literally days after I was sworn in to practice law by the Illinois Supreme Court. While I would think that having a lawyer with litigation experience would be a “plus” from a client standpoint, some new business owners get scared away.  They hire another lawyer to draft their operating agreement, or to review their commercial lease.  I guess they think that I’m going to somehow find a way to drag their business into an expensive and stressful lawsuit.

Now it could be possible that they hire another attorney for some other reason, and it would be beyond arrogant for me to think that this is the only reason that I don’t get hired by each start-up business prospect.  But I would not have written this piece if I did not “sense” the occasional prospective client bristle when the topic turns to “what happens” if we someday end up in court together.  I suppose the specters of angry judges with gavels and 35-page legal bills may shout “boo” from the shadows of my bookcases.  Scary stuff indeed.

Why would a nice business end up in court?  That’s a whole different article, but suffice it to say that there are many good companies that are embroiled in the circuit court system right now that have done nothing wrong.  Defending intellectual property rights, enforcing trade secret and licensing agreements, and of course collecting debts are just a few of these legitimate matters that often end up in court.  A company can also be a defendant in a civil suit for a variety of reasons.  While the most common way to get sued is to not pay your bills, not all of my corporate defendants are in financial distress.  Ex-employees and competitors can become a serious enemy.  While no sane person wants to go to court unnecessarily, the fact is that lawsuits, courthouses and judges are real, and closing your eyes will not make them vanish.

When shopping for a “go-to” lawyer for starting a new business, you may not want to hear about his litigation experience because it might scare you.  The goal of this article has been to unveil what I suppose is a subconscious process that occurs during many initial client-attorney meetings.  The takeaway is that you might be scared by the lawyer that touts his courtroom skills, but hopefully you’re not scared off.  If something unexpected happens down the line, you’ll be glad to have a full gun locker.

The above information is general information, and is not intended to provide legal advice to a specific situation.   Specific business start-up laws can be very complicated.  If you are starting a new business, you should seek competent legal advice immediately.  Feel free to call us for a no-cost consultation at 813-221-3759.

Tampa Civil Litigation FAQs for the Business Owner

When you are a business owner facing litigation, it can be intimidating regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or defendant.  If you have to sue because someone is not paying your bills for goods or services, it can be a very frustrating experience.  By the same token, when a business is served with a civil lawsuit it can be scary, whether the cause of action is breach of contract, trademark infringement, violation of a non-compete agreement, or some other business tort.

Of course we see these issues on a daily basis, but here are some common questions that we are asked from new business dispute clients.

Q:  What Happens First?

A:  A civil action starts with the filing of an initial complaint.  In the complaint, the plaintiff will state the cause of action and what sort of relief it is looking to achieve.  here are some common causes of action, and relief requested:

  • Breach of contract
    • Refund of money paid
    • Specific performance (this means that the other side must honor the contract)
    • Money damages
  • Violation of non-compete agreement
    • Injunctive relief
    • Restraining order
    • Money damages
    • Declaratory judgment
  • Collection case
    • Money damages
    • Return of equipment
  • Trademark infringement
    • Injunction
    • Money damages

Q:  How long will the case take?

A:  A civil case can take anywhere from a few weeks to several years to resolve. Why such a wide window? Here are the factors that will determine the length of the case:

  • Factual complexities
    • Is there a need for written “discovery” and depositions?
    • What sort of evidence will be produced at trial?
    • Are there many witnesses, or it is “your word against his?”
  • Emotional maturity of the parties
    • Divorcing couples have been known to fight years and spend $100K over a $100 issue…business owners can act the same way in a business dispute
    • Start-up founders might have an emotional attachment to their creation
    • Non-compete issues are wrought with allegations or wrong-doings on each side
  • What court are you in?
    • Federal district court
    • Circuit court civil
    • County court/small claims

Q:  How much will it cost?

A:  See answer immediately above, which basically means “I don’t know.”  To prepare yourself from “sticker shock” when you meet with your attorney for the first time, you can find most “hard costs” online by going to your local court’s website.  In Florida, most civil courts charge a filing fee of around $300-400, and the defendant is not charged a filing fee to respond.  However, in other states such as Illinois, the defendant might have to pay a court filing fee to respond to a complaint.  In addition to the court costs, there are other “hard costs” for process servers, court reporters, expert witness and investigative fees.  Keep in mind that this is all above and beyond the attorneys fees which can be anywhere from $300-800 per hour.

Q:  Can I collect attorneys fees from the other side?

A:  Maybe.  In most states, you can collect attorney fees from the other side if it is allowed in your contract or by statute. A good business contract will include a clause that states that the prevailing party can collect attorney fees and costs from the other party. Otherwise you need a state statute to authorize attorney fees. This is common with certain causes of action such as fair debt collection and consumer fraud matters.

The above information is general information, and is not intended to provide legal advice to a specific situation.  Feel free to call us for a no-cost consultation at 813-221-3759.

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