From time to time I get a call from a potential client in a tough spot: they ignored a summons to a lawsuit and are surprised that someone was demanding that they pay up.
Ignoring a lawsuit is almost never a good idea. When a lawsuit is filed, the Clerk of the Court issues a summons which demands that the defendant appear in court. Courts do not look kindly upon those that ignore the summons and do not appear.
When a defendant does not â€œshow upâ€ to court, the Plaintiff is able to ask the court for a â€œdefault judgment.â€ A default is just as good as if the the parties went through an entire jury trial. The judgement will be based upon a showing of proof by the Plaintiff. But since the Defendant is not there to challenge the default, they will not get to have a say. The amount of damages awarded in a default can be shocking.
Once the default judgement is finalized, the Plaintiff is able to obtain a writ of execution and execute on the judgement. With a writ of execution, the Plaintiff can obtain money from a Defendantâ€™s bank account or even garnish a Defendantâ€™s wages. The judgement will show up on the Defendantâ€™s credit report and will be a public record. All this just for ignoring a lawsuit!
In order to avoid a default judgement, you should never ignore a lawsuit summons. Even if you can not afford to hire an attorney, simply filing a â€œgeneral denialâ€ will tell the Court that you are making an appearance and are going to fight the lawsuit. You can find a Judicial Council general denial form here or you can contact your local Law Library for assistance.
Overturning a default judgement is possible, but depending on the circumstances it may be very difficult or nearly impossible. The main thing to keep in mind is that you must attack the default judgement as soon as possible to have a reasonable chance at overturning it. Again, it is best not to be put in this situation by always filing an answer once served with a lawsuit. This will at least buy you some time and will, at lest initially, prevent a default.
Helping people defend themselves against lawsuits is one of my passions. Please contact my office if you are served with a lawsuit. I would love to help. My office phone number is (916) 333-2222.