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Court Finds Defendant Entitled to Reopen Default Judgment Because Plaintiff Named Wrong Party

Posted in Firm News

In a recent case, a Georgia court of appeals determined a defendant should be able to reopen a default judgment that was entered on behalf of the plaintiff because the plaintiff named the wrong party. The court ultimately held that, due to the plaintiff’s failure to name and serve the proper party at the outset, it was reasonable that the defendant failed to answer the complaint.

According to the court’s opinion, a man fell at a Mexican restaurant in Marietta and died a few days later. A few weeks after the man’s death, his attorney sent a letter to the restaurant; however, it was sent to the wrong address. The letter was still delivered to the restaurant, and someone signed for the letter, but no one responded to the letter.

The man’s wife then filed a claim against the restaurant, again listing the incorrect address on the complaint. The restaurant’s owner was served with a summons and complaint, which named the incorrect restaurant as a defendant. However, the restaurant’s owner, who did own the restaurant at which the man died, was not associated with the restaurant that had been named in the complaint. Accordingly, the restaurant owner’s attorney responded, explaining that he was not associated with the named restaurant. The attorney for the restaurant where the accident occurred did not respond, since that restaurant was not named as a defendant.

A couple of months later, the attorney for the plaintiff filed an amendment to the complaint to identify the correct defendant. The attorney asked the court to enter a default judgment against the restaurant for failing to answer the complaint. The court found the restaurant failed to answer the complaint and granted a default judgment against it after finding that it had been properly served through its owner.

The restaurant then answered the amended complaint and moved to open the default. The trial court denied the restaurant’s motion to open the default, and the defendant appealed. The court of appeals reversed the decision. The court determined that the defendant was entitled to open the default because the plaintiff was the one to cause the confusion by not filing the complaint against the proper party.

Naming Correct Parties at the Outset of a Personal Injury Lawsuit

Determining who the correct parties are in a personal injury lawsuit may not be as easy as it initially seems. For example, business entities are often set up in ways to reduce the owners’ financial liability. This can make fully recovering compensation for one’s injuries difficult in some cases. However, improperly set up companies sometimes may be held liable, depending on the surrounding circumstances.

In some cases, the person responsible for causing the accident may be working as an employee at the time. If this is the case, the employer may also be held liable. Of course, these situations are highly fact-dependent and require an in-depth analysis.

The Court’s Decision

In the case discussed above, the court determined that the defendant should be allowed to reopen the default judgment entered against it. The court relied on evidence in an affidavit of the owner, asserting numerous defenses, answering the complaint, and stating he was prepared to defend the case. The court also found the defendant met the ground of excusable neglect because it was not properly served, and thus it had a reasonable excuse not to answer.

The importance of naming all potential defendants from the beginning of a personal injury lawsuit cannot be overstated. While the plaintiff in the case discussed above will still be able to seek compensation for his injury, significant time and expense were wasted due to his initial failure to properly name and serve the correct defendant.

Contacting a Personal Injury Attorney

If you have been injured in an accident, contact a premises liability attorney as soon as possible. At the Fine Law Firm, our skilled lawyers are dedicated advocates with years of experience in personal injury cases. Our attorneys can help pursue the compensation you deserve. To learn more, contact us through our online form or call us at 505-889-FINE to set up a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Court Dismisses Slip-and-Fall Plaintiff’s Case Under Recreational Use Statute, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, April 5, 2017.

State Appeals Court Finds Signed Arbitration Agreement Invalid and Reverses Lower Court’s Order, New Mexico Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, March 28, 2017.