The Florida Supreme Court recently upheld the long held legal principle that when sued by a valid complaint, the person sued must answer on time or suffer a default judgement. Under Florida law, a lawsuit is begun by serving a complaint on the defendant. After proper service is made, the defendant has 20 days to answer the complaint or file a motion to dismiss. If the defendant does neither of those things, the court will typically enter a default judgement against the defendant.
What is a default judgement? It means that the person bringing the lawsuit wins, and everything that person asked for in her complaint is granted. This type of extraordinary relief is available for several reasons in our system of justice. One of the most important of those reasons is because it demands that a person answer a lawsuit, or face paying everything asked for. This is what happened in the case the Florida Supreme Court recently decided.
Court Reinstates Judgement
Several years ago, a woman was walking on a business property fell and was severely injured as a result. According to her complaint, the owner of the property negligently maintained the premises and caused her severe injuries. She took this complaint to the court, and served it on the defendant’s registered agent, and began the process of her lawsuit to recover for her damages.
The agent for the property owner took the complaint and gave it to the owner’s attorney, but he did not do anything with it. Twenty days after the complaint was served, the injured woman filed for default judgement and was granted over a million dollars in damages. As you can imagine, once the property owner found out about the judgment, she tried to set it aside, but was unsuccessful. So she was stuck with a $1 million liability all because her attorney did not answer the complaint in a timely manner.
Later on, the injured woman filed an additional complaint against another owner of the property, alleging that the original owner falsely transferred title of the property. At this the original owner moved to dismiss the judgement because separate property owners could not be held liable for the same incident, according to their theory. Eventually, the court of appeals agreed with the position and the original default judgement was removed.
It was at this point in the litigation where the Florida Supreme Court reinstated the judgement. The court’s reasoning was simple: once the original property owner failed to answer the complaint, the only documents or facts she could use to later dismiss a default judgement was that original complaint. Not subsequent complaints and not papers from a different case. The lesson, then, is that answering a complaint is very important to not only avoid a judgement, but to be given the opportunity to answer allegations made.
Panama City Area Premises Liability Attorney
At The Pittman Firm we hand premises liability claims of all types. Whether an injury occurs, as it did here, because of negligent maintenance of property, or for another reason, we are the firm that will help you recover for you injuries. If you have been injured on the property of another, contact us. We will review your case with you for free.
See related blog articles: Tragic Event Leads to Lawsuit; Florida Supreme Court Upholds $4.5 Million Verdict in Premises Liability Case.