Default Judgments: Ignoring a Lawsuit Won’t Make It Go Away

Civil lawsuits are governed by a strict set of rules. For example, most states give defendants a certain amount of time to respond when a suit is filed against them. Defendants are also given their day in court. It is not wise for a defendant to ignore either opportunity. Not only will ignoring a lawsuit not make it go away, but it could also result in a default judgment.

A default judgment is entered on the behalf of the plaintiff when the defendant does not participate. A lack of participation leaves the court no other choice. It is in a defendant’s best interest to participate in the legal process, if for no other reason but to earn a little leniency.

Suing Over Unpaid Rent

A good way to illustrate the consequences of ignoring a lawsuit is through the example of someone I personally know. In order to protect his identity, I will refer to him simply as Mr. X. My acquaintance was living in a rental home when he lost his job.

Mr. X’s landlord was very patient for about nine months. But as the months rolled on, the rental payments Mr. X was making continued to decline. The landlord eventually sued. Relief was sought by way of both eviction and full payment of past due rent, plus legal fees and interest.

Already Moving Out

Mr. X and his family were already moving out of the house when he was served with the summons to appear in court. Not only did Mr. X not obtain legal representation, but he also didn’t even bother responding to the summons. He was planning to be in another state on the court date.

Needless to say, he did not show up in court on the appointed day. A default judgment was rendered against him. Approximately 30 days later, the landlord instructed her attorney to begin collection proceedings.

Trying to Buy a House

Casual collection efforts continued over the next several years, with Mr. X paying whatever he could whenever he could. But it was not enough. His unwillingness to find a way to pay the entire debt came back to bite him nine years later. How?

Mr. X and his spouse finally got their finances in order and decided to buy their first home. They spent months shopping around before making an offer that was ultimately accepted. Everything looked fine until their mortgage application was rejected. They had a problem: the lender discovered the outstanding judgment.

The lender intimated that the only way they would approve the mortgage is if Mr. X settled the outstanding judgment first. He did and his mortgage was approved. Nonetheless, the judgment had followed him for nearly a decade.

Collection Could Have Been More Aggressive

To this day, Mr. X does not know why his landlord wasn’t more aggressive about collection. She could have referred the judgment to a collection agency, like Judgment Collectors based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She could have instructed her attorney to be more aggressive. Had she done so, she may have gotten paid earlier.

Regardless of how the story turned out, the point is still clear: ignoring a civil lawsuit does not make it go away. Not only that, but some states also allow an unlimited number of renewals that could keep a judgment alive for decades. Even if Mr. X had successfully avoided paying, his creditor’s estate could have gone after his own estate upon his death.

The best way to manage a civil lawsuit is to respond to it. Bring in an attorney and do your best to work things out. Ignoring it is not a solution.

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