Switch to ADA Accessible Theme
Close Menu
Atlanta Criminal Defense Lawyers > Blog > Personal Injury > What Is a “Default Judgment” in a Georgia Personal Injury Lawsuit?

What Is a “Default Judgment” in a Georgia Personal Injury Lawsuit?


When you file a personal injury lawsuit, the defendant has a certain amount of time to file a formal response. If the defendant fails to act before that deadline, you can ask the court to enter a default judgment. Essentially, this means that the defendant will be held liable for your injury as a matter of law without the need for a trial.

That is not to say that a default judgment is the end of your lawsuit. You still need to prove damages–i.e., your losses arising from the defendant’s conduct. Even in a situation where the defendant never appears in court to offer a defense, the court may still conduct a trial solely on the issue of damages.

Defendant Ordered to Pay $25.7 Million in Wrongful Death of Machinist

It is possible for a court to set aside a default judgment if the defendant later appears. But once the proverbial genie is out of the bottle, it is often impossible to get it back in. Consider this recent decision from the Georgia Court of Appeals. In KOS Limited v. Dockery, the administrator of an estate filed a personal injury and wrongful death lawsuit against numerous defendants. The victim worked as a machine operator. One day, he was pulled into a machine used to adjust steel wire and decapitated.

One of the defendants, KOS Limited, installed the machine in question. The estate alleged the installation was negligent. The estate also sued the companies responsible for manufacturing the machine under Georgia product liability law.

Although KOS initially participated in the litigation, its attorney withdrew. After KOS failed to obtain new counsel to respond to a motion for summary judgment, the trial court entered a default as to liability. Meanwhile, the manufacturing defendants failed to respond to the lawsuit at all, so the court similarly entered a default judgment on liability.

The judge then held separate trials to determine damages. Ultimately, the judge issued identical judgments for over $25.7 million. Nearly three years later, KOS filed a motion to set aside the judgment. The judge denied the motion, prompting KOS to appeal.

Before the Court of Appeals, KOS’ main argument was that the trial court never apportioned damages among the various defendants as required by Georgia’s comparative negligence law. As it stood, each defendant was therefore liable for the entire $25.7 million judgment. The Court of Appeals, however, held that by failing to participate in the original litigation, KOS waived its right to any apportionment. Indeed, since none of the defendants appeared at the trial on damages, there was no evidence from which the judge could have made such an apportionment. KOS thus remained on the hook for the full $25.7 million.

Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers Today

Even when a defendant fails to appear, there are still a number of complex legal issues that must be sorted out to successfully pursue a successful personal injury or wrongful death claim in Georgia. An experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyer can help guide you through this process. Contact Hawkins Spizman Trial Lawyers today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.



Facebook Twitter LinkedIn