In a lawsuit, the person suing is called a plaintiff and the person being sued is called a defendant. Once the plaintiff files a lawsuit, a sheriff or process server will serve the lawsuit on the defendant. The defendant will be given a deadline to respond by filing an answer to the lawsuit. In a district or county court, the answer must be filed by 10 a.m. on the Monday following the expiration of 20 days after the date the defendant was served. In a justice court, the defendant must file an answer by the end of the 14th day after the date the defendant was served.

In Texas, if a defendant in a lawsuit fails to respond in a timely matter, the plaintiff can file a motion for a default judgment. This allows the court to rule in favor of the plaintiff without the need for a trial and the judge can issue an order claiming that the defendant is responsible for paying for damages the plaintiff claimed in the lawsuit.

Once a judgment is obtained, a plaintiff can start finding ways to enforce it including filing for an abstract of judgment (can use this to put a lien on real and personal property) and a writ of execution (used by the sheriff to seize equipment, inventory or cash belonging to the defendant).

There is a default judgment against me. Is there anything I can do?

There are some options. The following deadlines are for a district court. Justice court deadlines may vary.

1) File a Motion to Set Aside the Default Judgment- This is the most common avenue. Generally, a Motion to Set Aside a Default Judgment must be filed within 30 days of the default judgment, and you will need to show good cause such as mistake or accident.

2) File a Motion for New Trial- This Motion will argue that the failure to respond or appear was not intentional or the result or conscious indifference. Instead, the lack of response or appearance was due to a mistake or an accident. A meritorious defense will have to be provided with this Motion. Generally, a Motion for New Trial will be filed with a Motion to Set Aside and must also be filed within 30 days of the default judgment.

3) File a Restricted Appeal- This is a direct attack on the judgment claiming that the default judgment is not supported by law or facts alleged by the plaintiff. A Restricted Appeal must be filed within 6 months from the entry of the default judgment. Clear error must be shown.

4) File a Bill of Review- This is an equitable proceeding by a party seeking to set aside a judgment that is no longer appealable. You have 4 years to file a bill of review. This is usually filed because the defendant was never served with the lawsuit.

Do I have any other options?

You can always offer to settle the judgment with the plaintiff. The settlement can be a lump sum payment, a payment plan, or a mixture of both. Usually, a plaintiff is willing to settle to avoid the length of time and cost of attempting to collect on the judgment.

If you don’t think you will ever be able to pay the judgment against you, you may also consider filing personal bankruptcy.

If you need help answering a lawsuit, defending a default judgment, or want to learn more about default judgments in Texas, call our office at 903-347-2447. We are happy to help.