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What to do When You Face a Default Judgment

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Every so often, we get calls from consumers who tell us about a debt they disputed and didn’t believe they owed.  Unfortunately, some consumers may be tempted to ignore “papers” they receive from lawyers or courts, which can result in a default judgment against them.  Whether or not we can assist them in getting the default judgment set aside depends on the specific facts involved.

A default judgment can be rendered when the person defending a lawsuit fails to show up when summoned to court.  Just believing you don’t owe the debt is not enough – you must show up in court, either personally or through an attorney.  If you don’t, you may waive your right to defend against the lawsuit.  If a default judgment is entered, the other side essentially wins.  That often means the get everything they asked for, even if those charges are not appropriate or authorized.  That could mean additional charges for interest and the attorney fees for their lawyers.

However, a default judgment does not necessarily mean you have no alternatives.  If the judgment was entered within the past year, you may be able to get relief from the judgment for reasons of mistake, inadvertence, surprise, excusable neglect, fraud, misrepresentation, or other reasons.  There are other possible ways to set aside the judgment if they are properly brought to the court’s attention within a reasonable time, including a void judgment, satisfaction or release, or that the judgment has been discharged.  These reasons must be set forth in a motion asking the court to set aside the judgment pursuant to Florida law.

In addition, a judgment could be void if the person against whom judgment was entered was unaware of the litigation.  This is not all that rare, thanks to what we call “sewer service“.  This occurs when the process server does not actually deliver the lawsuit papers to the person being sued, but instead throws them into the sewer or otherwise gets rid of them.  For a news story on how the New York Attorney General has sued 37 law firms and debt collectors for this abuse that affects over 100,000 faulty judgments, please click here.  One consumer discovered he had been sued in New York; the process server claimed to have served him at his house in New York City, even though he lived in Florida, not in New York.

If you were not properly notified of the lawsuit against you, your constitutional rights to due process may have been violated.  This may be another basis for setting aside a judgment.

If you would like a free consultation to determine whether we can help you in setting aside a judgment, please feel free to call, fax or email us.  We will be happy to respond promptly, even in the evenings and on weekends.