Simply put, a default judgment is a judgment against a defendant who fails to answer a lawsuit. If a person or entity is sued and ignores the lawsuit entirely, the person or entity suing has the ability to get a judgment upon meeting certain criteria. The default judgment is a powerful tool in litigation allowing parties to obtain judgments for significant damages without a trial. Because of this, the requirements necessary for obtaining default are substantial. Judges insist on strict adherence to each requirement and routinely reject default packages submitted citing technical deficiencies. These strict requirements are designed to provide defendants due process. On one hand, California law provides wronged parties a mechanism to seek damages where the wrong doer ignores a lawsuit. On the other hand, California law ensures that basic procedures for fairness are in place. Unfortunately, the process is slow and cumbersome especially given how overwhelmed San Diego courts are today. For those who have been served with a lawsuit, the best advice from this lawyer is, “don’t ignore it”. See “Is Your Business Being Sued?” for a discussion of options. This article summarizes California’s default procedures and the options available for setting aside defaults.
Default procedures, like any aspect of litigation, are complicated for lay persons. Whether seeking default or reacting to one entered against you, it is best to consult with and experienced San Diego litigator before taking any steps. This summary of procedures looks deceptively simple. It is not. In addition to strict adherence to procedural rules, the party requesting default may be required to “prove up” their case. This means presenting admissible evidence to the court establishing your legal claims and your damages. The following is a list of prerequisites to obtaining a default judgment:
- Defendant must be served with the summons and complaint. In most cases, defendants must be personally served. However, where a defendant cannot be physically served, service may be accomplished by publication (by obtaining court approval to publish service in a newspaper).