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Kevin O'Flaherty

What happens when someone doesn’t respond to a lawsuit in Illinois? They risk a default judgment, where the court decides the case without them. In Illinois, default judgments explained means understanding the serious consequences of inaction, the steps of the process, and the options for recourse. Whether you’re a defendant in a suit, a concerned citizen, or just curious, this guide will provide the essential information you need without the legalese, setting you on the path to informed decisions.

Key Takeaways

  • A default judgment in Illinois is granted when a defendant does not respond to a lawsuit, carrying the same effects as a judgment in a contested case.
  • Plaintiffs must adhere to strict procedures like proper service of summons and possibly attending a prove-up hearing to secure a default judgment.
  • Defendants may challenge a default judgment by filing a timely motion with valid grounds, though the decision to set it aside rests with the court.

What is a Default Judgment?

A default judgment occurs in Illinois civil cases when the defendant has been properly served with a complaint and summons and has failed to file an answer to the complaint by the first court date or to appear in court for the first court date. A default judgment can also occur later in the case if the defendant ceases to participate in required court dates or other court requirements. 

A default judgment grants the relief sought in the plaintiff’s complaint against the defendant. It is enforceable, just like a judgment order entered after a trial. After a default judgment is entered, the plaintiff must send notice of the judgment to the party that has been defaulted.

The Basis of Default Judgments in Illinois

When a defendant does not reply to the initial complaint in a legal case, it can result in what is known as a default judgment. The silence from the other party allows for the plaintiff’s demands within the complaint to be met—not through comprehensive proof of their claims, but because there was no defense presented by the counterpart. This outcome causes the legal case to fail and represents more than just an abbreviated judicial process. It also upholds principles of due process and notification.

It is essential to recognize that when courts grant such judgments, they are not acting without regard for justice or evidence. Despite a defendant’s non-response, courts actively evaluate whether plaintiffs have provided adequate evidence before issuing an entry of default judgment. This ensures that each decision takes into account available evidence—or its absence—making every entry of default far from being merely procedural or automatic.

Consequences for the Defendant

Experiencing a default judgment can be akin to an unforeseen financial tempest, potentially triggering.

This occurs by virtue of a court order. It is imperative that individuals summoned by the judiciary make it a priority to attend court sessions. This underscores not only the extensive scope and enforcement power granted by both local and federal rules, but also how essential it is to comply with legal summons. One must put aside other obligations in favor of appearing in court.

For defendants specifically, facing a default judgment could have repercussions beyond immediate fiscal duress. Their creditworthiness may suffer lasting harm as well. Even punitive damages — those awarded not merely for reparation but also as punishment — fall within the jurisdictional authority afforded courts, which are entitled to discretionarily adjust such penalizing awards when considered unreasonably inflated. Indeed, enduring impacts follow from judgments made in absence or “default” scenarios – effects that permeate through many facets of financial life.

What is a Prove-Up for a Default Judgment?

Even when the defendant fails to appear in court, the court may require that the plaintiff present proof of the allegations in the complaint before the default judgment is entered. The required form of proof varies based on the legal issue and the particular judge. In some situations, the only proof required is proof that the summons was properly served. This usually takes the form of a sheriff’s or special process server’s affidavit. 

The plaintiff’s presentation of proof to the judge may occur at the same court date at which the initial default is ordered, or the default may be ordered, and a second court date may be set for prove-up.

Notice of Default Judgments in Illinois

Updated 6/28/19:

A reader asked the following question: Do I have to serve them again with this default to give them another chance to reply or just check the box they are not entitled to because they did not file or respond to the summons? If I do notify, should I serve by certified mail?

Answer: After entering a default order, you need to “immediately” mail notice of the default Judgment to the address at which the defaulted party was served. The notice need not be sent by certified mail.

Vacating a Default Judgment in Illinois

Although a default judgment is enforceable like a judgment entered after a trial, a default judgment may be vacated, unlike a judgment that is entered after a trial. When a default judgment is vacated, the judgment is essentially nullified, and the case proceeds from the point at which the default judgment occurred as if the default judgment had never been entered. 

The defendant against whom the judgment was entered must file a motion to vacate the default judgment with the court to vacate a default judgment. Suppose this motion is filed within 30 days of the default judgment. In that case, the motion to vacate is almost always granted, regardless of why the defendant failed to appear in court. 

Once 30 days have passed, it is much more difficult to vacate a default judgment. The defendant typically must show that he or she was not properly served with a summons by the plaintiff and therefore did not receive the required notice of the case. For this reason, when a plaintiff receives a default judgment, the plaintiff’s attorney will typically wait 30 days before initiating any enforcement actions. 

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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