What is a summons and what do you do after being served?

A summons is a document issued by a court, which begins the litigation process. There are a variety of different summonses, however, the most common is a combined summons and it is used for medical malpractice claims.

What is included in a summons?

A summons is usually a combination of two documents: the first is the summons itself and the second includes the particulars of the claim, where facts are set out and the relief being sought is identified. The names of the complainant or plaintiff (the person who is making the complaint) and the defendant or defendants (the person or group against whom the case is made) will appear on the document, together with the case number and the name of the court from which it was served.

It will explain that the defendant must indicate within a specified time period – usually 10 business days from when the summons was served – if they will defend the case. If you do not enter an appearance to defend within this time period, the plaintiff can apply for default judgement. This means that the relief sought may be granted without you providing any defence.

How is a summons served?

The Sheriff of the Court will personally serve the summons on the defendant or to a person who is older than 16, at the premises where the defendant works or lives.

Can you ignore a summons?

Although it might be tempting, ignoring a lawsuit will not make it go away and could result in the court awarding a money judgement against you by default. It is, therefore, essential that you instruct your attorney to formally notify the court, within the specified time period, that the matter will be defended on your behalf.

What do you do first?

  • Check that the document is a summons and not a subpoena or any other legal document.
  • Take note of the date it was served, on whom it was served and the name of the court.
  • Confirm that the description of the defendant defines you correctly.
  • If the summons does not accurately describe you, if your address is incorrect or if the summons was not correctly served, you can refuse to accept it.
  • You must then inform the sheriff that the defendant described in the summons is not you or the address is not yours.
  • If the sheriff insists on leaving a copy then immediately contact your professional indemnity provider.

What is your next step?

Contact your professional indemnity provider, who will then appoint attorneys on your behalf to defend you. You will need to discuss the legal process with your attorneys, as well as the claims made against you.

Secure all the patient’s records, as well as any other relevant information and documentation, and provide this, with a written report, to your attorneys. You must also identify and record the details of any expert witnesses who may assist your defence.

Your professional indemnity provider and your attorneys will manage the legal process and guide you through your preparations. They will serve a document, known as a notice of intention to defend the proceedings, on the plaintiff’s attorney and then to the court.

As the defendant, you will have to provide a plea within 20 days. The plea is your defence and response to the plaintiff’s claims as set out in the particulars of the claim. An advocate will also be briefed to appear on your behalf and present your case at court, should the matter not settle or be withdrawn.

At EthiQal, we are committed to protecting our doctors and keeping them in practice. Our in-house team of experienced medical and legal professionals will assess your situation and provide you with appropriate assistance and support. We also understand the devastating impact that receiving a summons or adverse patient outcome can cause and we can provide counselling by qualified experts.

Let us know how we can help you. For more information about this topic and our other medico-legal services, please contact EthiQal today. You can register an incident on www.ethiqal.mobi, send an email to claims@ethiqal.co.za or call our claims and medico-legal support line on 021 007 4527.

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