Missing In Action: What Happens When A Defendant Fails To Show For Court


It may seem strange for a defendant in a civil case to not show up for court, but it's something that happens quite often and can leave you as the plaintiff wondering what happens next. The court case will typically proceed without the defendant. However, there may be consequences of this turn of events that you'll need to be prepared for.

In-Court Proceedings

When it becomes apparent the defendant is not going to show up for the court appointment, one of two things will happen. If there are extenuating circumstances known to the court or certain factors about the case warrant it, the case may be postponed. For example, in cases in Utah against military service members, the court will enter an automatic stay of 90 days whereby nothing can be done with the lawsuit until the service member has been contacted or the time limit expires.

The majority of the time, though, the judge will let the case proceed like normal and a default judgment may be entered in your favor. How it proceeds will depend on where you live. In some jurisdictions, you'll have to file a request for a default judgment and send notice to the defendant. After the court reviews the request, it will either make a judgment or schedule a hearing about the issue during which you'll be allowed to present your side of the case. If the judge feels there is enough evidence to support your claim, he or she will rule in your favor. If not, your case will be dismissed.

Some courts may only render default judgments in cases where the plaintiff has requested damages in a fixed amount (e.g. $15,000 for medical bills). If your case includes asking for money for undetermined damages (e.g. punitive damages), then you may have to withdraw your complaint and submit a new one that includes specified amounts.

After the Case Concludes

Once a default judgment has been entered by the court, the defendant cannot appeal the decision. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that's the end of the lawsuit. The person can file a request with the court to vacate the judgment. If the person is successful, then you'll have to go through the process of suing the individual all over again.

The courts generally don't like vacating judgments, though, and will only do so for sufficient cause such as:

  • Fraud or misrepresentation
  • Mistake or excusable neglect
  • The discovery of new evidence that could not be uncovered during the case
  • Insufficient or inappropriate summons
  • The judgment was paid, discharged, or released

Typically, the defendant will have up to one year after the judgment has been entered to file a motion to vacate. Though you can begin attempting to collect what's owed to you during that time, you'll want to retain all the paperwork and evidence regarding the lawsuit at least until the statute of limitations passes just in case the defendant attempts to dispute the judgment.

What to Do If You Receive a Motion to Vacate

In this situation, you'll be required to return to court to defend against any allegations the defendant makes regarding the default judgment. One of the most common reasons given for the request to vacate a judgment is insufficient or inappropriate summons, meaning the person was not served court papers in an appropriate manner or didn't receive them at all. In this and any other claims of violation of legal procedures, showing that you followed the requirements of the law and court should be sufficient enough to defend against the claims.

Since returning to court could cause you and the defendant to incur additional legal fees, a motion to vacate may be a good opportunity to settle with the defendant. The person may be amenable to negotiating with you to resolve the issue, especially if you impress upon the person that successfully getting the judgment vacated will result in further litigation, increased expense, and may lead to a judgment in a higher amount.

No matter what you decide to do, consult with a personal injury attorney from a firm like Law Office Of Daniel E Goodman to develop a strategy for dealing with the challenge to your default judgment. For more information about this issue, contact a lawyer.


8 May 2015

Noni and the Accident

My name is Noni. When I was in college, I was hit by a car while crossing the street. My life was never in danger, but I did break a few bones and had a lot of huge medical bills. I was hoping I wouldn't have to get involved with an attorney, but unfortunately, it came down to that. I used a family friend who is an accident attorney to get some compensation. A few years later, I was hit while riding my bike and had to go through the same process. I suppose I'm lucky to be alive. And it's thanks to accident attorneys that I have been able to put my life back together. I started this blog as a way to let others know just how much lawyers can help you in certain situations.