Excusable Neglect Definition and Legal Meaning

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

What is Excusable Neglect?

n. a legitimate excuse for the failure of a party or his/her lawyer to take required action (like filing an answer to a complaint) on time. This is usually claimed to set aside a default judgment for failure to answer (or otherwise respond) in the period set by law. Illness, press of business by the lawyer (but not necessarily the defendant), or an understandable oversight by the lawyer’s staff (“just blame the secretary”) are common excuses which the courts will often accept. However, if the defendant loses the complaint or fails to call his/her attorney the courts will be less lenient. In any event, the defendant must also show he/she had some worthwhile defense.

History and Meaning of Excusable Neglect

Excusable neglect is a term used in law to denote a valid reason for a failure to take legal action within the prescribed timeframe. The definition, as mentioned earlier, means that the mistake or failure to act is not the result of negligence or intentional wrongdoing. Instead, it occurs due to a legitimate reason that the court deems understandable, such as illness, unexpected circumstances, or staff oversight.

In legal proceedings where a party fails to answer or respond to a complaint within the given time frame, the court may issue a default judgment, which means the defendant automatically loses the case. Excusable neglect can help set aside the default judgment if the defendant can demonstrate that the missed deadline was a result of a valid excuse that was beyond their control.

Examples of Excusable Neglect

Here are a few examples of how excusable neglect may be used in different legal contexts:

  1. A plaintiff fails to file a response brief within the deadline because their attorney fell ill and was unable to work. The court may allow the plaintiff to file the response brief due to excusable neglect.
  2. A defendant misses the deadline to request a trial date because they mistakenly believed their attorney had already done so. The court may consider this to be excusable neglect and allow the defendant to request a trial date.
  3. A law firm fails to file a motion within the deadline despite having a system in place to track deadlines. If the law firm can show that the missed deadline was an aberration rather than a pattern of behavior, the court may consider it excusable neglect.

Legal Terms Similar to Excusable Neglect

Here are a few related terms that are similar to excusable neglect:

  1. Mistake of Fact: When a party makes a mistake about the facts of a case that results in a failure to act within a required time frame.
  2. Inadvertence: An unintentional error or oversight that leads to a failure to meet a deadline or take action in a legal case.
  3. Negligence: A failure to exercise reasonable care or diligence that results in harm or damage to another party's rights or interests.