Fighting a legal battle in India is invariably a nightmare for the common man. While corporates and business houses have strong legal teams to battle it out, an inpidual cannot boast this support system. However, being sued does not necessarily mean that you, as respondent, will never win the case.
To ensure that you are on a strong footing when you receive a court notice, you will not only have to find the right lawyer and raise sufficient funds, but also work hard at bolstering your case. “Keep in mind that there’s more than one way of dealing with a court case. Start by taking the help of a qualified lawyer to formulate a strategy,” says Mumbai-based advocate Geetanjali Dutta. Here are some options that you can explore if you are sued:
This is one of the most viable options for respondents as it saves time and money. A settlement is essentially a conciliation process, wherein a third person presides over the matter and helps the disputing parties to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution. If you want to opt for conciliation, you must send a written notice to the opposing party. Be warned that the latter has the option of rejecting your offer. If the plaintiff, or the person suing you, agrees to settle the matter out of court, you will have to appoint a conciliator mutually. You can also choose to have up to three conciliators, in which case, each party appoints one conciliator of its choice, while the third one is a consensual candidate.
Oncethe conciliator is appointed, the two parties need to submit their statements laying down the bone of contention, along with any other supporting documents and evidence. The conciliator reviews the statements and drafts a possible settlement. If the parties agree to it, the final settlement is binding on both. If no agreement is reached, the matter goes back to the court. This option is not available in all cases, such as the ones pertaining to insolvency or a crime.
Dismissal by the court
There are a few grounds on which you can have the court dismiss the case against you. One such ground is that of ‘limitation’. Civil cases come under the ambit of the Limitation Act, 1963, which has laid down a time frame within which one can file a case. This usually ranges from three months to three years, depending on the case filed. If the plaintiff does so after the prescribed deadline, it becomes ‘time barred’ and is dismissed. Of course, there are exceptions; if the plaintiff is a minor or lunatic, he will be incapable of filing the case.
The court can also dismiss the case if it has been filed under the wrong jurisdiction. For instance, if the disputing parties reside in Mumbai and the property in dispute is located in the same city, one cannot file a case in Delhi. The Civil Procedure Code, 1908, and Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, lay down the rules of jurisdiction for filing a case. If the dispute with the plaintiff arises because of a contract that contains an arbitration clause, you can ask the court to redirect the matter to an arbitral tribunal. This clause states that in case of a dispute between the parties, the matter has to be settled through arbitration. In other words, neither party can approach the court for resolution. Usually, the clause mentions who has the right to appoint the arbitrator, as well as the issues that can be settled through this route. If the matter is not envisaged to be settled by arbitration as per the contract, you cannot invoke this clause.
Finally, you can ask the court to dismiss the case on the ground that the plaintiff has no locus standi, that is, he/she has no connection with the case. For instance, if you are locked in a property dispute with your neighbour, the latter’s friend cannot file a suit against you.
Filing a counterclaim
You can also explore the option of filing a counterclaim in suits involving recovery of money. The idea behind filing it is to defeat or diminish the plaintiff’s claim. However, a counterclaim can only be filed if the matter relates to the plaintiff’s cause of action. For instance, if you are sued by a friend for `1 lakh that you owe him as per a contract signed between the two of you, and he also owes you `70,000 as per this contract, you can file a counterclaim. Even if your claim against the plaintiff does not arise from the same cause of action, you can set it off against his claim. “The impact of a counterclaim and setting off is the same but, legally, these are different things,” according to Dutta.
You can also file a case of malicious prosecution or defamation if you can prove that the plaintiff’s intention was to create trouble for you and was not founded on a reasonable cause.
Fight the case
If no option works,you will have to fight the case in court. This is a time-consuming process and requires a lot of personal attention. If you know that your case is weak, you can agree to the plaintiff’s demand and settle the case in the first hearing itself. To do otherwise would be a waste of time, money and effort.
However, if you are convinced that you have a strong case, conduct proper research. Find out the relevant Act and sections under which your case falls. Look up similar cases and present this information to your lawyer. Apart from collecting proof for your case, list out the evidence, including documents and photographs. Do not forget to draw up a list of people who can act as witnesses on your behalf. Most importantly, prepare financially for the case. Have a fund in place to take care of the legal costs since experts claim that the legal battle can easily run into a few lakhs of rupees.