Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a case that reversed a lower court’s order granting a default judgment in favor of a plaintiff in a car accident case. In the case, Tucker v. Williams, the court ended up holding that the defendant’s failure to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint warranted a default judgment. However, when the defendant ultimately did respond, the trial court should have lifted the default judgment and reopened the case.
The Williamses were involved in a traffic accident that they claimed Tucker was responsible for causing. The accident left Mr. Williams with a permanent serious injury, so the couple filed a negligence lawsuit against Tucker. The case also named two insurance companies.
The two insurance companies responded to the lawsuit, denying liability and asking the court to dismiss the claims. However, Tucker did not respond. After about six months of waiting, the Williamses asked the court to enter a default judgment in their favor, since Tucker did not reply.
The court entered a default judgment against Tucker. Before the court could order a hearing to determine which amount of damages was appropriate, Tucker appeared and asked the court to lift the default judgment. Tucker claimed that he had several good defenses to the Williamses’ case and that it was in the interest of justice that the default judgment was lifted. However, the court refused to lift the default judgment and awarded the Williamses over $3 million in damages.
Tucker then appealed the trial court’s failure to lift the default judgment, as well as the calculation of the damages amount. On appeal, the court noted that since a default judgment is an extreme remedy, trial judges should “liberally” lift default judgments for good cause and when it is in the interest of justice. Here, the court explained that Tucker did have a colorable defense to the Williamses’ claim, and the Williamses were not prejudiced by the delay Tucker had caused. Thus, it was in the interest of justice to lift the default judgment, and the trial court’s failure to do so was an abuse of discretion.
Default Judgments in Maryland Courts
Maryland Rule of Civil Procedure 2-613 covers default judgments in the state. Essentially, the rule allows a court to enter a default judgment against a defendant if they fail to respond by a necessary due date. However, the rule also allows a court to lift the judgment for any reason within 30 days. After that 30-day window, a court can still lift the default judgment, but the defendant would then need to show that there was an “actual controversy” and that it is “equitable to excuse” the defendant’s default.
Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. While it is rare, it is possible that one or more of the parties will fail to respond to the case filed against them. However, that does not necessarily mean you will receive the compensation you deserve if they respond at a later date. It would be up to your attorney to prove that you were prejudiced by the defendant’s failure to respond in a timely manner. A dedicated personal injury attorney at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC can fight for your rights and ensure that everything is done in furtherance of your claims. Call 410-654-3600 today to set up a free consultation.
More Blog Posts:
Workers’ Compensation May Be the Sole Remedy for Some, But Not All, Accident Victims, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published August 2, 2016.
Court Resolves Ambiguity in Insurance Contract in Favor of Insured, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published August 16, 2016.