Plaintiffs’ $2M California Judgment Survives Defendant’s Challenge to Service of Process

door knockerIn any civil lawsuit, steps like marshaling all of the evidence that supports your case is an obviously important part of the process. There are other procedural details, however, that can be easier to overlook or, alternatively, easier to get wrong if you aren’t keenly familiar with the rules. In one recent case involving a fatal vehicle crash, the plaintiffs retained counsel, and they did comply with the rules, which is why their $2 million judgment survived a defendant’s challenge to the manner in which they provided service of process.

The origin of the case was a fatal vehicle-pedestrian crash. A drunk driver drove a pickup truck onto the property of a business in Santa Clara. The truck slammed into two employees who were walking outside the plant. One died at the scene; the other died the next day.

The families of the two dead pedestrians sued the driver, as well as his brother. The complaint alleged that both the drunk man and the brother were “the owners and operators of the pickup truck.” In the court papers, the brother’s first name was listed as “John,” although his name actually was Jonathan.

The plaintiffs properly served the allegedly drunk man, and, after he did not respond, the plaintiffs obtained a default judgment against him. Serving Jonathan proved more complicated.

The plaintiffs made many attempts to achieve personal service, all without success. The driver of the truck, despite having worked for his brother for almost a year, stated he didn’t know where Jonathan lived. Eventually, the plaintiffs served Jonathan by publication, which meant that the plaintiffs provided notice of the lawsuit via a newspaper. Still, Jonathan did not appear in the case.

The plaintiffs advanced their case and obtained a default judgment against both brothers. The court awarded damages of $2.03 million. In 2015, a decade after the entry of the judgment, the plaintiffs obtained a renewal of their judgment. At this point, Jonathan retained counsel and challenged the judgment. He argued that he never received actual notice, so the judgment, or the renewal, should be set aside as it related to him. He contended that he knew that his brother had driven drunk and killed two people while behind the wheel of his truck, but he claimed not to know that a judgment had been entered against him.

The pedestrians’ families fought back, and the courts upheld their judgment against both brothers. Jonathan’s challenge to the validity of the plaintiffs’ service of process could not succeed because he waited 10 years to challenge it, and California law only gives a defendant two years to present such an argument. He also argued that the court should grant him equitable relief from the judgment, but that kind of relief is only available in very exceptional circumstances, and it was not unreasonable for this trial court to rule that Jonathan lacked a sufficiently satisfactory excuse.

Even when you have a very strong case based on the facts and the law, you still must comply with all of the mandatory procedural rules. Even the strongest case can fail if you don’t follow procedures. This is but one of many ways in which experienced counsel can be extremely valuable to you and your case. The hardworking and knowledgeable San Mateo pedestrian accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye & Fitting have been working on behalf of injured people in California for many years and are ready to help you. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

California Pedestrians Recover $3M From Drunk Driver’s Insurer for Its Failure to Settle Civil Case, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, Published Aug. 5, 2016

California Appeals Court Affirms $15 Million Verdict Against Semi-Truck Operator in Wrongful Death Action, San Mateo Injury Lawyers Blog, Published Nov. 4, 2015