Been Served With a Civil Suit? 10 Pieces of Advice From an Attorney

October 21, 2020

Seasoned Attorney Lance LoRusso serves as General Counsel to the Georgia State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police. He has represented more than 80 officers involved with on-duty shootings or in-custody deaths and has lectured on deadly force and other topics to law enforcement officers nationwide.

He is also the author of as excellent book, When Cops Kill: The Aftermath of a Critical Incident (profits from which benefit law enforcement charities.) In a chapter from that book titled, “The Civil Side of Critical Incidents,” LoRusso shares 10 things he urges officers to do in regard to being served. Here’s his advice:

1. Never authorize anyone to accept service of a lawsuit on your behalf without speaking with an attorney.

2. If you are served, immediately take everything you are given when you are served and place it into an envelope.

3. Immediately write down the following on the envelope: the date and time and a description of the person who served you.

4. Get your calendar out and make three notes: the day you were served, twenty days from the date upon which you were served and thirty days from the date upon which you were served. Write those three dates on the envelope. [Note: The purpose of noting those dates, as LoRusso explains it: “When you are served, the clock starts ticking! You generally have thirty days in a state court, or twenty days in federal court, to file an answer to the allegations in the lawsuit. This is a short period of time in which you must gather important documents, verify the allegations in the lawsuit, and decide what legal defenses you may raise.”]

5. Bring all of the documents you received to your chain of command AND your own attorney. If you are a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, contact your lodge president for an appointment with the lodge attorney. If you are a member of the Fraternal Order of Police Legal Defense Plan or you have your own professional liability insurance, notify the plan representative or your insurance company exactly as required by the insurance policy or the contract.

6. Make certain that you have all of the relevant documents and evidence, such as incident reports, indictments, and video recordings available for the attorney.

7. Do not sign ANYTHING without checking with an attorney.

8. Follow up with the attorney to make certain that an answer was timely filed on your behalf. The attorney should not be at all upset with your efforts to stay on top of the case.

9. Do not discuss the details of the lawsuit with anyone except your attorney or your chain of command as ordered to do so, and do not provide recorded statements, by phone or in person, without an attorney present.

10. Direct all media inquiries to the agency’s chain of command or public information officer. This can be challenging. I have represented LEOs who were confronted by the media at their homes following the filing of a lawsuit. Be polite, be professional, assume you are being recorded and say nothing.

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