A lot of people ask me how to go after someone and get a judgment. Whether you are a business or an individual, a judgment is usually the final goal in a civil case. It is the piece of paper people you get at the end that allows you to collect.
It is not always easy to get a judgment; in fact, many times it’s downright difficult. But then, how do you do it? Well, after you’ve filed a lawsuit, there are only a few ways.
1. By Default
The easiest way to get a judgment is by default. This usually happens when you have filed and served a lawsuit and the defendant has ignored it. In all lawsuits, the defendant has a duty to defend in some manner, whether through filing a responsive pleading or showing up at a hearing. If the defendant does nothing, the plaintiff can usually get a default, and then can get a judgment by default.
2. By agreement
Another way to get a judgment is simply by agreement. In many cases this is a form of settlement. In some cases a judgment is agreed to because defendant does not have enough defenses and believes it is not worth the effort or expense to litigate the case. An agreed judgment usually requires some sort of a compromise by both parties.
3. By Summary Judgment
A third way to get a judgment is after filing a motion for summary judgment. It requires that all the facts in the case be determined by the evidence, and that any of the issues remaining are not of fact but rather of law. Once all the issues of fact are put aside, the judge can look at the case and decide the legal issues only and enter a judgment. Eliminating factual issues is not as easy as it sounds, however. For example, something as simple as a disputed signature could throw a wrench into a motion for summary judgment. Nevertheless, this tool is used frequently by litigators.
The last way to get a judgment is by going to trial. If you have gone through all the stages of your case — the motions, discovery, and usually mediation — it has not been dismissed or settled, and you have not obtained a judgment by one of these other means, the case goes to trial. Trial can be in front of a judge or jury. All of the evidence is presented, including your witness testimony, and the issues are decided. As you may have guessed, this last method requires much more work than the first three.
* * *
Although these are the ways to get a judgment, a judgment is not always the best end goal. In many cases, it is more financially advantageous to reach a settlement. Reasons include that you will be more likely to collect after an agreement has been reached; you have more control over the resolution (rather than leaving your fate in the hands of the judge or jury); you will save money in attorney fees. Another reason is that you will not have to deal with the defendant fighting to overturn or vacate the judgment.
Regardless, if you have found yourself in a legal issue where you want to obtain a judgment, please feel free to contact us for a free consultation.