Default Judgment Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Default Judgment, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Default Judgment?

n. Plaintiff (the suer) has the right to receive a default judgment after requesting a default to be entered into the court record by the clerk because the defendant in a lawsuit failed to respond to a complaint in the predetermined time (typically 20 or 30 days). If the amount due is easily calculated because the complaint was for a specific amount of money owed on another, other money due, or a specific contract price, the court clerk can enter a default judgment. A hearing will take place to determine the terms of the default judgment if proof of damages or other relief is necessary. The defendant must show a legitimate excuse and good defense to the lawsuit in order to have the default set aside.

History and Meaning of Default Judgment

Default judgment refers to a court decision entered in favor of a plaintiff where a defendant fails to respond within the legally prescribed time frame. By not responding, the defendant waived their right to contest the allegations, and the court may enter a default judgment granting relief to the plaintiff. The decision is issued when the plaintiff has provided sufficient evidence to justify relief in the form of damages or other forms of relief.

Examples of Default Judgment

  1. A plaintiff sues a defendant for breach of contract, but the defendant never responds. The court enters a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff.
  2. A landlord files a lawsuit for unpaid rents against a tenant, but the tenant fails to respond within 30 days. The court issues a default judgment in favor of the landlord, including eviction and statutory damages.
  3. A company files a lawsuit against an individual for causing damage to their property, but the defendant never responds. The court awards the plaintiff the amount sought in damages via a default judgment.

Legal Terms Similar to Default Judgment

  1. Summary judgment: This refers to a judgment on the merits issued by the court without the case going to trial.
  2. Motion to dismiss: This refers to a defendant’s request for the court to dismiss the case for legal or procedural reasons.
  3. Service of process: This refers to the legal process of notifying the defendant of the lawsuit against them, often by certified mail, personal delivery or publication.