Types of Civil Judgments

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 What Is a Civil Judgment?

A civil judgment is a ruling issued by a court in a civil lawsuit. In this judgment, the court decides whether the defendant is liable for the claims brought by the plaintiff and, if so, what remedies the defendant must provide to the plaintiff. The judgment may involve monetary damages, an order to perform a specific action, or an injunction to stop a certain behavior. For example, a civil judgment may require the defendant to pay damages to compensate the plaintiff for their injuries in a personal injury case.

What Is a Summary Judgment?

A summary judgment is a type of judgment issued without a full trial. This usually occurs when the judge determines that there are no disputed material facts in the case and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. For example, if a business sues a client for non-payment of services and does not dispute that they didn’t pay, the court may issue a summary judgment in favor of the business.

Here’s an example involving a car accident:

Imagine being involved in a car accident where the other driver ran a red light and hit your car. There were several eyewitnesses, and a traffic surveillance camera recorded the incident, clearly showing the other driver’s car entering the intersection against a red light.

You file a lawsuit against the other driver, seeking compensation for your medical bills, car repair costs, and other damages. In response, the other driver does not dispute that they ran the red light and caused the accident but argues that you were also partially at fault for not avoiding them.

You could file a motion for summary judgment given the clear evidence showing the other driver’s liability. In the motion, you would argue that there’s no factual dispute about who caused the accident because the other driver admits to running the red light, and the video evidence confirms this.

If the judge agrees that there’s no genuine dispute of material fact about the other driver’s liability, they could issue a summary judgment in your favor, meaning that the other driver is legally responsible for the accident. This would leave only the question of how much the other driver owes you, which could be decided at a trial if not agreed upon.

What Is a Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict?

A Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict (JNOV), or judgment as a matter of law in federal courts, is a type of judgment entered by the judge after a jury has returned its verdict. This judgment overrules the jury’s verdict when the judge believes that no reasonable jury could have reached such a verdict. This is usually used in situations where the verdict is clearly against the weight of the evidence.

Let’s say a medical malpractice case goes to trial. The plaintiff claims that a surgeon’s negligence during an operation caused them significant harm. They present much compelling evidence, including expert testimony from other surgeons who agree that the defendant deviated from the standard of care. However, the defendant presents testimony from a likable but arguably less qualified expert who says everything was done correctly.

The jury, swayed perhaps by the charisma of the defendant’s expert, returns a verdict in favor of the surgeon despite the weight of evidence and expert testimony presented by the plaintiff.

In this scenario, the plaintiff could request a JNOV, arguing that no reasonable jury looking at the preponderance of expert testimony and evidence could have reached the verdict that was delivered. If the judge agrees, they may overturn the jury’s verdict and issue a judgment in favor of the plaintiff, finding the surgeon liable for the alleged negligence.

What Is a Consent Judgment?

A consent judgment is a type of judgment that is entered into by agreement between the parties.

The defendant agrees to enter a judgment against them without admitting fault or liability.

This is often used in civil litigation to settle a case without going to trial. It’s often a result of negotiations where both parties find the consent judgment preferable to the uncertainty of a trial.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation involving a business dispute:

Suppose Company A sues Company B for breach of a commercial contract. Company A alleges that Company B failed to deliver products as agreed in the contract, resulting in significant losses for Company A.

After the lawsuit is initiated, Company B realizes that defending against the lawsuit could be more expensive and damaging to its reputation than the cost of the claim. However, Company B does not want to admit any fault or liability. The two companies might agree to a consent judgment to resolve the situation without going to trial.

Under the consent judgment, Company B might agree to pay a certain amount to Company A. Importantly, in the consent judgment, Company B does not admit that it breached the contract or is liable for Company A’s losses. It merely consents to the judgment as a way to resolve the dispute.

This consent judgment then becomes binding and has the same legal force as a judgment that might have resulted from a trial. Both companies save time and money by avoiding lengthy litigation, and Company B avoids admitting fault or liability.

What Is a Default Judgment?

A default judgment is a judgment that is entered against a defendant who fails to respond to a lawsuit. If the defendant does not answer the complaint within the prescribed time limit or fails to appear at a scheduled court hearing, the court may enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff. This can result in the defendant being ordered to pay damages or fulfill other remedies as requested by the plaintiff in their complaint.

Imagine you’re a landlord, and one of your tenants has stopped paying rent for several months. You’ve tried contacting them multiple times without success. So, you decide to sue them in small claims court to recover the unpaid rent.

You properly serve the tenant with a summons and complaint, which outline the details of the lawsuit and inform them of their need to respond by a certain date. However, the tenant does not respond to your complaint or appear in court on the scheduled hearing date.

In this situation, you, as the landlord and plaintiff, can request a default judgment from the court. If the court grants this request, it will issue a judgment in your favor by default because the tenant failed to respond or contest your claims.

This default judgment might require the tenant to pay all the unpaid rent, late fees, and any additional costs or damages you requested in your complaint. If the tenant still does not pay, you can use the default judgment to begin collection actions, like garnishing their wages or levying their bank account.

Do I Need an Attorney If I Am Involved in a Court Case?

It is highly advisable to consult with an attorney if you’re involved in a court case or have questions about any types of judgements. An attorney can guide you through the complexities of the legal system, represent your interests, help negotiate settlements, and advocate for you in court if necessary. Whether you’re a plaintiff or defendant in a civil lawsuit, understanding your rights and the potential legal consequences is essential, and an attorney can provide the necessary legal guidance.

At LegalMatch, we can help you find the right civil lawyer for your case. Our unique matching service can connect you with pre-screened, experienced attorneys in your local area. Visit LegalMatch today to start your search.

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