Let the Litigant Beware

When a newspaper reports that a judgment has been entered by default against PepsiCo, Inc. for $1.26 billion in Wisconsin, you may tend to dismiss it as something that has no effect on you and skip to the next article.

However, the lesson learned by the folks at PepsiCo is one we might all take note of.  The litigation papers were sent to a PepsiCo office in North Carolina for service.  The documents were given to a secretary of a PepsiCo attorney who was “busy preparing for a board meeting” and ignored for several weeks.  These are time-sensitive documents, and when the time for responding expired with no word from PepsiCo, the plaintiff asked the Wisconsin court to enter judgment by default.

Given the size of the verdict and the fact that PepsiCo maintains that the suit is totally without merit and frivolous, the cavalier attitude of the PepsiCo law department is stunning.  PepsiCo may prevail, but if rules of court are to have any significance, they should be enforced unless there is an overwhelming reason (is $1.26 billion overwhelming enough?) to ignore them.

Heads may roll at PepsiCo for this negligence, but why should you be concerned (no, they won’t be taking your Diet Pepsi away from you!)?  If ever legal documents are served upon you, whether by the Sheriff, a Constable, or certified mail, you ignore them at your peril!   There will always be a notice advising that you have a certain number of days to respond (usually 20); and if you fail to do so, irrespective of the merits and size of the claim and the fact that you have nothing but disdain for the person who started the proceeding, you must take steps to assert  your rights promptly after receipt of the notice.

If you are even served with papers, at the very least you should consult with an attorney to assess your position and further obligations.

— Ken Butera


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