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What Is a Motion for Default Judgment?

Understanding Default Judgments

A motion for default judgment is a legal request made by the plaintiff, when the defendant fails to respond to a lawsuit. It’s a way for the plaintiff to win the case, without having to go through a full trial.When you’re served with a lawsuit, you have a limited time to file an answer with the court. This is your opportunity to tell your side of the story, and dispute the claims made against you. If you don’t respond, the court assumes you agree with everything the plaintiff said.That’s where default judgments come in. The plaintiff can ask the court to rule in their favor, based on the defendant‘s failure to participate in the case. If the judge grants the motion, the plaintiff wins automatically, without having to prove their case at trial.It’s a powerful tool for plaintiffs, but a scary prospect for defendants. Imagine losing a case, without ever getting to tell your side of the story. That‘s the risk you take, when you ignore a lawsuit.But here’s the thing: default judgments aren‘t set in stone. If you have a good reason for not responding, you may be able to get the judgment set aside. More on that later. For now, let‘s dive into the nitty gritty of how default judgments work.

The Default Judgment Process

So, how does a plaintiff actually get a default judgment? It’s a multi-step process, that varies a bit from state to state. But in general, here‘s how it goes down:

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  1. The plaintiff files a lawsuit and serves the defendant with a copy of the complaint and summons.
  2. The defendant has a set amount of time to file an answer with the court. This is usually 20-30 days, depending on the state.
  3. If the defendant doesn’t file an answer, the plaintiff can request an entry of default from the court clerk. This is basically a formal notice that the defendant failed to respond.
  4. Once the default is entered, the plaintiff can file a motion for default judgment. This asks the judge to rule in their favor, based on the defendant’s failure to participate.
  5. The judge reviews the motion and decides whether to grant the default judgment. If the judge grants the motion, the plaintiff wins the case.
  6. The plaintiff can then take steps to collect the judgment, like garnishing the defendant’s wages or putting a lien on their property.

It’s a straightforward process, but there are a few key points to keep in mind. First, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant was properly served with the lawsuit. If the defendant never received notice, the default judgment can be set aside.Second, the judge has some discretion in whether to grant the default judgment. In some cases, the judge may want to hear evidence on the plaintiff’s claims, even if the defendant doesn‘t respond. This is more likely in cases involving large sums of money or complex legal issues.

Step What Happens
1 Plaintiff files lawsuit, serves defendant
2 Defendant has 20-30 days to answer
3 If no answer, plaintiff requests entry of default
4 Plaintiff files motion for default judgment
5 Judge reviews motion, decides whether to grant
6 If granted, plaintiff can collect judgment

Consequences of a Default Judgment

Okay, so what happens if a default judgment is entered against you? Well, it’s not good news. A default judgment has the same legal force as a judgment after a trial. That means the plaintiff can start collecting the money you owe them, even if you never had your day in court.Here are some of the ways a plaintiff can collect on a default judgment:

  • Wage garnishment: The plaintiff can have a portion of your paycheck diverted to them, until the judgment is paid off.
  • Bank account levy: The plaintiff can freeze your bank account and take out the money you owe them.
  • Property lien: The plaintiff can put a lien on your house, car, or other property. This means you can’t sell the property without paying off the judgment.
  • Collection agencies: The plaintiff can hire a collection agency to hound you for the money. This can lead to non-stop phone calls and letters, until you pay up.

As you can see, a default judgment is no joke. It can have serious consequences for your finances and your life. That’s why it‘s so important to respond to a lawsuit, even if you think the claims are bogus. Ignoring the problem will only make it worse.

Collection Method What It Means
Wage garnishment Part of your paycheck goes to plaintiff
Bank account levy Plaintiff takes money from your account
Property lien Can’t sell property without paying judgment
Collection agency Non-stop calls and letters until you pay

Fighting a Default Judgment

But what if you have a good reason for not responding to the lawsuit? Maybe you were out of town when the papers were served, or maybe you didn’t understand the legal jargon. In these cases, you may be able to fight the default judgment and get a second chance to tell your side of the story.The first step is to file a motion to set aside the default judgment. This is basically a request for the judge to cancel the judgment and let you file an answer to the lawsuit. In most states, you have to file this motion within a certain time period after the judgment is entered, usually 30-60 days.In your motion, you’ll need to explain why you didn’t respond to the lawsuit in the first place. Some common reasons include:

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  • You never received the complaint and summons, because they were served at the wrong address or to the wrong person.
  • You were out of town or in the hospital when the papers were served, and didn’t get them until it was too late to respond.
  • You didn’t understand the legal papers or the consequences of not responding, because of a language barrier or cognitive impairment.
  • You have a strong defense to the lawsuit, and would have filed an answer if you had known about the case.

If the judge finds your reasons convincing, they may set aside the default judgment and give you a chance to file an answer. But here’s the catch: you’ll also need to show that you have a meritorious defense to the lawsuit. In other words, you can’t just say “I didn’t know I had to respond.” You have to show that you have a real chance of winning the case on the merits.This is where things get tricky. In some cases, your defense may be obvious, like if the plaintiff is suing you for a debt you already paid. But in other cases, you may need to do some legal research or hire a lawyer to figure out your best defense.

Reason for Not Responding What to Show in Motion
Never received papers Papers served at wrong address/person
Out of town/in hospital Didn’t get papers until too late
Didn’t understand papers Language barrier, cognitive impairment
Have strong defense Would have filed answer if knew about case

Preventing a Default Judgment

Of course, the best way to deal with a default judgment is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are some tips for making sure you don‘t miss a lawsuit:

  1. Keep your address up to date with the court and any creditors or businesses you deal with. If you move, make sure to update your address ASAP.
  2. If you’re served with legal papers, READ THEM CAREFULLY. Don’t just assume it’s junk mail or a scam. If you’re not sure what the papers mean, ask a lawyer or legal aid organization for help.
  3. If you decide to respond to the lawsuit, make sure to file your answer with the court AND serve a copy on the plaintiff. Just sending a letter to the plaintiff isn’t enough.
  4. If you can’t afford a lawyer, look into legal aid or pro bono services in your area. Many organizations offer free or low-cost legal help for people who can’t afford an attorney.
  5. If you do end up with a default judgment against you, ACT FAST. The sooner you file a motion to set aside the judgment, the better your chances of success.

Remember, ignoring a lawsuit won’t make it go away. In fact, it will almost certainly make things worse. By taking action early and being proactive, you can protect your rights and avoid the nightmare of a default judgment.

Tip Why It Matters
Keep address up to date Ensures you receive legal papers
Read papers carefully Don’t assume it’s junk mail/scam
File answer with court AND serve plaintiff Just sending letter isn’t enough
Look into legal aid/pro bono if can’t afford lawyer Many offer free/low-cost help
Act fast if get default judgment Better chance of setting aside if file motion quickly

Real-Life Examples

To help illustrate the default judgment process, let’s look at a couple of real-life examples.Example 1: John was sued by his credit card company for $5,000 in unpaid bills. He was served with the complaint and summons, but he threw the papers away because he thought it was just another collection notice. 30 days later, the credit card company filed a motion for default judgment, which the judge granted. John found out about the judgment when his wages started being garnished. He filed a motion to set aside the judgment, arguing that he didn’t understand the consequences of not responding. But the judge denied his motion, because John didn’t have a strong defense to the lawsuit.

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