What To Do If A Court Issues A Default Judgment Against You In A Florida Insurance Case
As a general legal principle, if somebody files a lawsuit against you, and you fail to respond in any way, the trial court has the authority to enter a default judgment for the plaintiff. But even after a default judgment is entered, the defendant can still ask to set it aside based on grounds of “excusable neglect” under Florida law. The defendant must also show they have a “meritorious defense” to the underlying lawsuit and acted with “due diligence” to set aside the default.
Clerical Error Leads to Insurance Company Missing Judge’s Deadline
A recent decision from the Florida Third District Court of Appeal, Universal Property & Casualty Insurance Company v. Dimanche, illustrates how these rules work in practice. This is an ongoing lawsuit over insurance coverage. The defendant issued a homeowners’ policy to the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs filed a claim for damage to their property. The defendant did not pay. The plaintiffs subsequently filed a lawsuit, seeking approximately $65,000 in damages to repair their home.
After filing the initial complaint, however, neither party took any action to move the lawsuit along. The trial court, on its own initiative, directed the plaintiffs to file a motion for entry of a default within 10 days. They failed to do so.
The same day the judge issued his order to the plaintiffs, the defendants appeared and filed a motion to dismiss. The judge denied this motion and ordered the defendant to file an answer to the lawsuit within 7 days or face default. Unfortunately, a legal assistant in the defendant’s office failed to put the deadline on their calendar, and so it passed without an answer. The judge then entered a default against the defendant.
The Third District held that default was not appropriate in this situation. The assistant’s calendaring error was a case of “excusable neglect.” The defendant also had a “meritorious defense” to the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. Specifically, the defendant said the damage claimed by the plaintiffs was not a “covered peril” under their homeowner’s policy. Finally, the defendant acted with due diligence to set aside the default. The Third District therefore returned the case to the trial court for further proceedings on the merits of the lawsuit.
Speak with an HD Law Partners Attorney Today
In any legal proceeding–whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant–it is critical that you follow all court deadlines and assert your rights in a timely manner. Litigation is never something to treat casually or lightly.
In particular, insurance disputes are governed by a complex array of rules and procedures. Even the most experienced party may slip up, as the case above illustrates, which is why it is all the more essential to work with an experienced Tampa insurance attorney that specializes in this type of litigation.
Contact HD Law Partners today if you want to work with attorneys’ who have over 40 years of combined experience assisting clients in insurance matters.