Tort Lawsuit Defense

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid LSC Funded

What do you do if someone is injured and you are sued?

If someone is injured by a car accident you cause, what happens if you are sued?  If you are sued, what can you do to defend yourself in court?  Experienced tort defense attorney Bruce Walker of Phelan, Tucker, Mullen, Walker, Tucker & Gelman in Iowa City, has been dealing with these cases.  Here is some information from Mr. Walker on torts and defending against a lawsuit.

What is a tort?

  • A tort is when one person violates his/her duty to another.
  • The easiest way to understand torts is by looking at examples of torts:
  • Car accidents,
  • injuries due to poorly maintained property, and
  • Assault.

How do I know if I am being sued?

  • You would be served.
  • Service is usually in person, by a process server or a sheriff’s deputy.
  • Check your email - It is possible you could receive notice by email if you are already signed up for electronic filing.
  • Before you are sued, you may receive a letter from an attorney or an insurance claims office.

What should I do after I receive notice that I’m being sued?

  • The key is to take action.
  • As soon as you are served with notice of the lawsuit, the clock begins to run on important deadlines.
  • Missing the deadlines cannot be fixed, even by the most skilled lawyer in town.
  • If your case involves a car accident or an incident on your property, you should contact your insurance company right away.
  • Your insurance company should then send someone to investigate the case for you. 
  • They might provide an attorney to defend you.
  • If you do not have an insurance policy covering the cause of the injury, consider hiring an attorney to help prepare your case.

What are some deadlines I need to watch out for if I’m being sued?

  • Read all papers that come to you about the case so you know your deadlines.
  • The most important deadline initially is the limited time you have to file an Answer, or your response to what the other party says you did or did not do.
  • From the time you are served, you have twenty (20) days to file an Answer in state court.
  • There is no cost to file an Answer at the clerk’s office.
  • The next deadlines to watch for are discovery deadlines, or when information from one party has to be produced to the other party.
  • The trial date is the final deadline.  Be sure you are ready to present your case on the date of the trial.

What can I do to prepare for trial?

  • Whether you have an attorney or not, your most important job in preparing for trial is to gather all relevant evidence.
  • If you have an attorney, you should give him or her everything you think may be helpful in your defense.
  • Don’t try to edit for your attorney, since your attorney is the right person to decide what is useful evidence and what is not.
  • Prepare a short summary of the situation that gave rise to the case.
  • It can take years before the time of the incident and trial, so it is important to record what happened while your memory is still fresh.

What are some tips for succeeding without an attorney?

  • If you find yourself unrepresented, there are some steps you may take to protect yourself.
  • First, take note of any important deadlines.
  • Check with the clerk of court if you have questions about any deadlines.
  • Second, write letters to the opposing counsel or party (if unrepresented) before filing motions to find out if there is agreement or not and to try for settlement.
  • Third, practice telling what happened in a way that is organized and easily understandable by a stranger.
  • Fourth, organize the documents you want to submit as evidence in court.
  • Be sure that you make two copies and the original of any paperwork you intend to submit - the judge and opposing parties will both need to have the materials, and you should keep a copy for yourself.
  • Mark the exhibit with stickers or mark by hand with “Defendant’s Exhibit” and a letter.  
  • Then in your testimony, refer to that document as “Defendant’s Exhibit (letter)” so the judge and opposing party know which document you mean.

How do I find an attorney to help me?

  • You can call Iowa Legal Aid for some advice on your deadlines and situation.
  • Defending yourself in a tort action is stressful, but one can get through by taking action, meeting deadlines, and preparing the case for trial.  For more legal information on this and other topics, go to 
Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 
Last Review and Update: Nov 11, 2015

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