When you file a personal injury lawsuit or any other civil action, there are several ways you could receive compensation. You could win the case at trial and a jury could award a judgment in your favor. You could also settle the case with the other party where they agree to pay you a certain amount of money to dismiss the lawsuit. There is another way that not many clients are aware of – that is default judgment. Our Joplin personal injury lawyers understand this alternative way to win a lawsuit.
What is a default judgment?
Every state has its own set of rules regarding how lawsuits and litigation must be handled. Our Joplin personal injury lawyers are familiar with the rules in Missouri. Those rules require a complaint to be filed in order to initiate the lawsuit. They also require the person filing the lawsuit (“the plaintiff”) to have it “served” on the person being sued (“the defendant”). Service simply means giving the other party notice that the lawsuit has been filed.
Once the defendant has notice of the lawsuit, the rules require that they file some type of response to the lawsuit within a certain period of time. If that response is not filed in time, then the plaintiff can ask the court for a “default judgment.” That means, the plaintiff automatically wins on the claims and the court only needs to determine the amount of compensation.
$500k default judgment affirmed in Indiana case
A good example of how a default judgment works is a personal injury case in Indiana. The lawsuit involved a personal injury that occurred in a grocery store in Gary, Indiana, due to an allegedly defective shopping cart. The lawsuit was filed in August of 2013. The complaint was served on the defendant store by the local sheriff’s department.
The grocery store failed to file a response after six months, so the plaintiff asked the court for a default judgment. It was granted three months later. A hearing was set for the court to determine the amount of compensation — $500,000.
Defendant did not respond until after the default judgment was entered
In the Indiana case, the plaintiff filed a motion with the court to enforce the default judgment after it had been entered. That means the plaintiff asked for the defendant to be made to pay the awarded amount. It was not until that time that an attorney representing the grocery store appeared in court on behalf of the defendant.
The attorney for the grocery store filed a motion to set aside the default judgment, arguing that there were procedural errors and that the failure to respond should be overlooked because of “excusable neglect.” The trial court did not agree. The grocery store later appealed the decision, but the appellate court affirmed the decision and the plaintiff was allowed to keep the award.
Default judgments are not typically favored
A default judgment is considered an extreme remedy. Although the rules provide for default judgments, courts do not typically favor them because the purpose of litigation is to allow both sides of a dispute the opportunity to represent themselves and present their side. Nevertheless, an appellate court will generally not reverse a default judgment unless there was some procedural error or a legitimate reason why the other party failed to timely respond to the lawsuit.
Proper service of a lawsuit is guaranteed under the law
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, known as the Due Process Clause, requires that parties receive constructive notice of the lawsuit through proper service. What does require exactly? First, the party filing and serving the lawsuit is expected to exercise due diligence in locating the defendant’s whereabouts so they can be served in the right location. Second, service of the complaint must be accomplished in one of the approved methods under the state’s civil procedure rules. Our Joplin personal injury lawyers are experienced in complying the with rules that apply in Missouri.
Proof of lack of proper service required to set aside default
In the Indiana case, the defendant argued that it did not receive the complaint either from the sheriff’s office or by certified mail. However, the court found that service was accomplished in compliance with the state’s rules. This was evidenced by the return receipt that was stamped indicating that it had been delivered to the grocery store. There was no evidence to the contrary.
If you have questions regarding premises liability claims or any other personal injury issues in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a free consultation, either online or by calling toll-free at (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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