How Default Judgments Are Like a School Bully

If you have ever come home from a trip to discover a paper titled “default judgment” posted to your apartment, then you know how that a default judgment is like a school bully. Default judgments are entered without any opportunity for you to defend yourself, they can extremely intimidating, and they really mess with your life.

What is a default judgment?

A default judgment occurs when a defendant fails to file a written response in court after being served with court papers.

For example, Jim’s world was turned upside-down when he found out that a default judgment was entered against him.

Jim went on a work retreat for two weeks in Moab.[1] Jim slid his rent payment under his apartment manager’s office before he left. However, unfortunately, his apartment manager didn’t see the envelope and accidentally kicked it under a rug. Thinking that Jim failed to pay his rent, the apartment manager started eviction proceedings against Jim.

When Jim got home, he found court papers posted to his door, including something titled, “Order of Restitution,” and another one titled, “Default Judgment.” The Order of Restitution stated that Jim must immediately vacate his apartment and that a sheriff is authorized to forcibly remove him. The Default Judgment orders Jim to pay his landlord $5,000. Jim is flabbergasted. He didn’t even know there was a Court case against him. How did this happen?

As it turns out, a notice to pay rent and court papers were delivered to Jim’s flakey girlfriend, Becky, who was staying in Jim’s apartment while he was out of town. Becky meant to tell Jim about these papers but figured it could wait until he got home from Moab. However, when Jim got back to his apartment, it was too late. The time to respond to the court papers had already run out, and the court entered a default judgment against Jim for failing to appear to defend himself.

What can you do if a default judgment is entered against you?

If you discover that a default judgment was entered against you, you may still have options. Default judgments are disfavored under the law because they are entered without hearing a response from the defendant. The Utah Supreme Court prefers to give defendants an opportunity to defend themselves before entering a judgment. Therefore, if you have a good excuse for failing to respond, the Court will likely “set aside” the default judgment and give you a chance to present your defense at trial.

For example, in the earlier example, Jim didn’t even know that there was a lawsuit when a default judgment was entered against him. His failure to respond to the Court papers was not his fault. He never saw the court papers and Becky never mentioned them.

Because Jim has a good excuse for not filing a response, he can file a motion to re-open the case. If Jim hires a good attorney who can make the correct legal arguments based on ‘excusable neglect’ or ‘insufficient service of process’, then there is a good chance that the Court will set aside the default judgment and give him a chance to defend himself at trial.

Don’t be intimidated by an unfair default judgment. Like a school bully, they are often not as tough as they first appear.

We can help you defeat your school bully. If you have received a default judgment and never had a fair opportunity to defend yourself, call the legal professionals at Hepworth, Murray & Associates. We can help you get rid of the default judgment and get on with your life.