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Law Offices of Jonathan M. Cooper

The Danger of Having a Default Judgment Against You in New York

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If only I had a few dollars for every time I've been asked about this. Unfortunately, a lot of people - way too many - seem to be under impression that if you've been sued, and you think that the lawsuit is frivolous, you can ignore it with impunity, bury your head in the sand, and it will go away. That is a terrible mistake. Under New York law, if you fail to answer timely a summons and complaint (which are the papers that formally start the lawsuit), you will be deemed in default. And if a judge issues a judgment based on that default, then guess what? You will be barred from contesting liability, which means that you lose the right to challenge the other side's version of the events that led to the lawsuit. Fortunately, even if that occurs, all may not be lost; as long as the default judgment is less than one year old, you may apply to the court and ask that the default be opened (in legalese "vacated"), and that the case be determined on its merits. That said, it is not the simplest thing to vacate a default; you will need to show both of the following: (1) a reasonable excuse for your failure to respond in a timely fashion to the summons and complaint; and, (2) that you have a valid (or "meritorious") defense to the claim. The bottom line is this: if you've been sued, don't ignore the lawsuit papers. Make sure that you respond in a timely way.

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