What Is a Default Judgment? - Definition & Sample

Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

After you complete this lesson, you should have an understanding of what constitutes a default judgment. Moreover, you will review a sample and look at the circumstances where a default judgment may be reversed.

Definition

Imagine that you are suing Bob for negligently injuring your foot while he was mowing the lawn. You file the proper legal papers which inform Bob that you are suing him for the damages you have from injuring your foot. Bob has a certain period of time to respond by written form or by appearing in court on a certain date. If Bob fails to respond or appear, he will be considered what is called 'in default of the court' for not showing up. Consequently, you will receive what is known as a 'default judgment'. Bob must now provide payment for the damages that you are seeking.

A default judgment happens when one party does not respond when being sued. In such an instance, there is an automatic judgment for the other party. The default judgment is issued by a judge or a court, and once granted, the default judgment is in effect. This means that the party who did not appear must abide by the judgment.

Sample

Default judgments can occur when any party to a lawsuit does not respond to court papers. For example, let's say Annie files a lawsuit against Bridget. Bridget appears in court to argue her side of the case, but Annie forgets to go to court. The judge enters a default judgment against Annie and dismisses the lawsuit because Annie did not show up in court.

Conversely, when one is being sued, like in the example above with Bob, failure to show up when scheduled to do so can result in a default judgment.

Avoiding Default Judgments

Of course, the best way to avoid a default judgment is to respond to the legal papers in the time frame you are given. However, once a default is issued, there may be a way to remove the judgment.

Initially, if the documents were not properly served on the defendant (the person who is being sued), the default judgment may be reversed. Service of the papers means that the defendant received a copy of the lawsuit against them, so he or she has adequate time to respond to the case in a court of law. If the defendant can show that he or she did not receive the papers, the court will likely reverse the default judgment and give the defendant an opportunity to respond.

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