What Is A Default Judgement?

Written by J. Hirby and Fact Checked by The Law Dictionary Staff  

Lawsuits offer people the opportunity to have their dispute heard and resolved by an impartial judge. Unless a case is settled beforehand, the usual procedure is for the judge to conduct a trial in which both sides have the chance to submit evidence in support of their respective positions. After considering all of the evidence, the judge renders a decision in favor of one of the parties. A judgment is the order of the court granting the relief sought by one or more of the parties to the lawsuit.

Default Judgments

Sometimes, judges grant a default judgment when one party to a lawsuit fails to do something that is required. For example, a person served with a summons must appear in court within a specified time. A person who fails to appear within that time means that the opposing party can ask the judge to grant a default judgment.

When a judge grants a default judgment, only one side of the dispute has the opportunity to present evidence. Because the judge only hears one side of the case, default judgments usually give the party appearing in the case the relief that person was requesting.

Default Judgments are a Risk to Both Sides

Default judgments are usually associated with a defendant?s failure to file an answer to a complaint after a lawsuit is started, but the plaintiff who starts a lawsuit can also be at risk of a default judgment. This could happen if the defendant counterclaims by asserting a claim against the plaintiff. If the plaintiff fails to respond to the counterclaim, the defendant might be entitled to obtain a default judgment.

Seeking Relief from a Default Judgment

Most judgments, including those granted because of the default of one of the parties, direct the losing party to pay a sum of money to the winning party. The holder of a judgment may seize the personal property, including bank accounts and vehicles, of the person against whom the judgment has been issued.

Because of the consequences associated with a judgment, a defaulting party has the right under state laws to file a motion with the court asking it to set aside the judgment. Most states require that the defaulting party prove a valid excuse for defaulting and, in many states, that the defaulting party has a valid defense to the opposing party?s claim.

Some states impose time limitations for filing a motion to vacate a default judgment. A defaulting party should act immediately to vacate the default to avoid losing the right to do so.

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