If the defendant fails to answer the plaintiff's claims or fails to appear at the hearing, the judge may, upon the plaintiff's request, hear and decide the case without hearing the defendant's side. This is called a default judgment.
If the judge grants a default judgment, the plaintiff is entitled to the amount of money damages specified in the suit, plus court costs. If the plaintiff is asking for any non-money damages (such as property), a separate hearing must be held to determine the dollar value of the damages.
If the defendant doesn’t file an answer to the claim within 30 days, the defendant shall be in default. However, after the expiration of the 30 days, the defendant has 15 days in which to "open the default" by filing an answer and paying court costs.
How does one appeal a judgment?
If either party is dissatisfied with the judgment, that party may appeal (request a review of the judgment by a higher court). Either the state court or the superior court in the county will hear the appeal, and either party may request a jury trial. Appeals must be made within 30 days from the judge’s decision. The court that hears the appeal will charge a filing fee.
How does one collect the award?
In many cases collecting the court award is more difficult than proving the case in court. A judgment granting the plaintiff an award gives the plaintiff the right to collect the money damages from the defendant, but the plaintiff is responsible for actually collecting the award. The court cannot, and will not, collect awards for any party.
If the defendant is unable to make full payment immediately, the plaintiff may ask the court at the hearing to order a payment plan. The plaintiff must pay the clerical and accounting costs of such payment plan, which costs are not to exceed 10 percent of each payment made. If the defendant is unwilling to pay, the plaintiff may:
- Place a lien on the defendant's property, giving the plaintiff the right to sell the defendant's property to collect the money award. The clerk of the court, when asked by the plaintiff, can place a lien on the defendant's property. A small fee is charged to place a lien.
- Garnish the employer or bank account of the defendant in order to seize the defendant's wages or bank deposits. The garnishment process allows the plaintiff to collect installment payments on the debt the defendant owes. The plaintiff must file a separate garnishment action and pay a filing fee.
If you do not know the name of the defendant’s bank or the location of other assets, you can file a post-judgment interrogatory. Mail the form, which can be obtained from the clerk of the magistrate court, to the defendant, who must respond under oath within 30 days. Note that the defendant may close the bank account when advised of the pending garnishment, and then you would need to obtain information about any new account.
- Hire a collection agency to recover the money damages owed. These services can be costly and are usually based on a percentage of the money collected from the defendant.