I’ve been sued. What do I do now?

The first thing to do is review any applicable insurance policy to see whether an insurance company is available to defend you. Sometimes it is easiest to simply fax a copy of the suit to your insurance agent, who will communicate with the appropriate carrier. In the event insurance is not available or you are not sure it is, you need to confer with an attorney as soon as possible as you will usually only have 30 days to respond to the suit.

Does the losing side have to pay the winner’s legal fees?

In the U.S., the losing side does not necessarily have to pay the winning side's attorney's fees. This allows people to file cases and lawsuits without the fear of incurring excessive costs if they lose the case. A common exception occurs when a contract or statute specifically allows for the payment of attorneys' fees by the other side. In addition, a judge can require a losing side to pay the other's attorneys' fees in certain limited situations. If you're concerned that the losing side would have to pay attorneys' fees, ask your lawyer if any exceptions may apply to your case. 

What is mediation?

Mediation is an attempt to settle a legal dispute through a third-party mediator (usually an attorney) who works to find a fair result. Mediation is common in trying to resolve domestic relations disputes (divorce, child custody, visitation) and in contract and civil damage cases. The financial cost of mediation is less than going to court over the matter, and may end the dispute in a more timely manner. However, mediation does not always result in a settlement.

What is arbitration?

Arbitration is another alternative to litigation in settling disputes. Unlike litigation, arbitration takes place out of court. The two sides select an impartial third party, known as an arbitrator, and agree in advance to comply with the arbitrator's award. They then participate in a hearing at which both sides can present evidence and testimony. Unlike mediation, the arbitrator does not take part in the discussion, but rather hears the facts of the case and makes a decision. The arbitrator's decision is usually final, and courts rarely reexamine it.

Arbitration can be voluntary or required. In theory, it has advantages over litigation. Proponents say arbitration is easier, cheaper and faster. Critics argue that even when efficiency is achieved, the price can be a lower quality of justice.