In When Cops Kill, his informative book on helping officers navigate the treacherous legal shoals after an OIS, police attorney Lance LoRusso offers this checklist on what to do if and when you are served with notice of a civil lawsuit against you.
1.) Never authorize anyone to accept service of a lawsuit on your behalf without first speaking to an attorney.
2.) Immediately place everything you are given by the server into an envelope. Write on it the date and time of service, and a description of the person who served you.
3.) On your calendar and on the envelope, also note 20 days and 30 days from the date of service. Generally you’ll have 20 days to respond to a federal suit, 30 days in state court.
4.) Plan to follow up with your lawyer to make certain that an answer is filed in a timely manner. Your attorney should welcome your active participation in crafting the response to accusations against you.
5.) Bring all the documents you received to your chain of command and to your attorney. If you are covered through a union legal defense fund or have your own professional liability insurance, notify the respective agents exactly as required by your contract or policy.
6.) Make sure to gather for your attorney all relevant and available documents and evidence from the incident in question, such as incident reports and video recordings.
7.) Do not sign anything without checking with your attorney.
8.) Do not discuss the details of the lawsuit with anyone except your attorney or your chain of command as ordered to do so. Do not provide recorded statements, by phone or in person, without an attorney present.
9.) Direct all media inquiries to your agency’s chain of command or to the PIO. In response to reporters, be professional, assume you are being recorded, and say nothing.
10.) Consider filing a countersuit against plaintiffs who sue you. The filing of a countersuit can significantly change the dynamics of the suit against you.
LoRusso’s book — available in soft-cover or Kindle formats through Amazon — offers more than 200 pages of practical tips for confronting criminal and IA investigations, media scrutiny, and civil actions against you after a deadly confrontation. LoRusso, a former LEO and now an FOP attorney, also hosts a blog on legal issues for cops, accessible at www.bluelinelawyer.com.