The Perils of Ignoring a Lawsuit: Understanding Default Judgments and Their Costly Consequences for Small Business Owners

July 24, 2023by Jeffrey Davis



For small business owners, dealing with a lawsuit can be a daunting and stressful experience. However, ignoring a lawsuit is one of the worst actions to take in such situations. This article aims to explain why failing to respond to a lawsuit can lead to a default judgment and the severe legal consequences that follow. Small business owners must be aware of the potential risks and costs associated with neglecting to address a lawsuit in a timely and appropriate manner.

The Default Judgment

When a plaintiff files a lawsuit against a small business owner, the law requires the defendant (the business owner) to respond within a specific timeframe, usually by filing an answer or a motion to dismiss. Failure to respond within this time frame can result in a default judgment being entered against the business owner.

A default judgment occurs when the court makes a ruling in favor of the plaintiff because the defendant failed to present a defense. In essence, by not answering the lawsuit, the defendant allows the court to assume that the claims made by the plaintiff are true, leaving the defendant with little to no opportunity to contest the allegations.

Consequences of Default Judgments

  1. Loss of Control: By not answering the lawsuit, small business owners forfeit their ability to participate actively in the legal process. They relinquish their right to present evidence, cross-examine witnesses, and argue their case, putting the control entirely in the hands of the plaintiff.
  2. Financial Penalties: Default judgments typically favor the plaintiff, which often leads to significant financial liabilities for the business owner. The court may order the defendant to pay damages, including compensatory and punitive damages, resulting in severe financial strain on the business.
  3. Damaged Reputation: A default judgment can have lasting effects on a small business’s reputation. News of a lawsuit and a subsequent default judgment can tarnish the business’s image, potentially leading to a loss of customer trust and loyalty.
  4. Collection and Enforcement: Once a default judgment is entered, the plaintiff has the right to enforce it to collect the awarded damages. This can include garnishing the defendant’s bank accounts, placing liens on their assets, or pursuing other aggressive collection measures.

Vacating a Default Judgment

If a default judgment has been entered against a small business owner, there is still a chance to rectify the situation. The process of attempting to vacate a default judgment involves filing a motion with the court, providing a valid reason for the failure to respond, and demonstrating a meritorious defense.

Vacating a default judgment is not an easy task, and it often incurs significant costs. Small business owners must consider the following expenses:

  1. Legal Fees: Engaging an attorney to file the motion and represent the business owner in court can be costly, depending on the complexity of the case and the attorney’s hourly rates.
  2. Time and Resources: Preparing and filing the motion, gathering evidence, and going through the legal process can be time-consuming, diverting the business owner’s attention from running their business.
  3. No Guarantee of Success: There is no assurance that the court will grant the motion to vacate the default judgment. Courts generally prefer that cases be decided on their merits, and therefore, the defendant must present a strong argument as to why the default should be set aside.


In conclusion, not answering a lawsuit can have dire consequences for small business owners. A default judgment can lead to financial losses, damage to reputation, and the loss of control over the legal proceedings. Attempting to vacate a default judgment is an uphill battle that often involves substantial costs and provides no guarantee of success.

Therefore, it is crucial for small business owners to be proactive when served with a lawsuit. Seeking legal counsel, responding within the required time frame, and presenting a well-prepared defense are essential steps in protecting their interests and mitigating potential legal and financial ramifications.