Monday, May 14, 2018

Default Judgment Opened in Monroe County Where Elements for Relief Met

In his recent decision in the case of Brozzetti v. Liz, No. 3621-Civil-2017 (C.P. Monroe Co. Mar. 9, 2018 Williamson, J.), Judge David J. Williamson of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas granted certain Defendants’ Petition to Open a Default Judgment. 

According to the Opinion, this case arose out of a motor vehicle accident.   The Plaintiff filed suit against an alleged DUI Defendant driver and various entities under a Dram Shop Act action.

The Opinion notes that the Complaint was served on the Dram Shop Defendants and, due to their failure to respond, a default judgment was eventually entered against those Defendants.  

In ruling on the Petition to Open the Default Judgment, the court noted that such a judgment may be opened by the court when the petitioning party can show that they have (1) promptly filed a Petition to Open a Default Judgment, (2) provided a reasonable excuse or explanation for failing to file a responsive pleading, and (3) pleaded a meritorious defense to the allegations contained in the Complaint.   See Op. at p. 4 [citations omitted].  

In this matter, the issue of prompt filing and the excuse for not having filed a responsive pleading were noted by the court to be closely intertwined. 

The Dram Shop Defendants asserted that, when they were served with the Complaint, the documents were provided to their long time insurance agent, and the Dram Shop Defendants were assured that the matter was being handled.   

However, it appears that the agent never provided the information to the insurance carrier and other evidence was provided to show that the insurance agent had sold his business, and may have spent time in hospital during the time in question, and may have otherwise lost his ability to operate as a licensed insurance agent.   

The court confirmed that the record indicated that once the problems were discovered, prompt steps were taken by the Defendant to secure counsel and to have a Petition to Open the Default Judgment filed.  

Judge Williamson compared the facts before him as being similar to those cases where the courts have excused the neglect of counsel that results in the entry of default judgment through no fault of the defendants themselves.   Judge Williamson felt that the same could be said in terms of reliance upon a representation by the insurance agent that the claim and the matter were being handled.   

Overall, Judge Williamson felt that the Dram Shop Defendants had acted in a timely manner once they became aware that no insurance claim had been transmitted by their insurance agent.   The court noted that, thereafter, in a span of approximately only 17 days, a claim was then opened, an attorney was assigned, that attorney reviewed the file and entered his appearance, and filed the Petition to Open and an Answer to the Complaint.  

Under these circumstances, the court felt that the Dram Shop Defendants had provided a reasonable excuse for their failure to file a responsive pleading, i.e., that they were unaware that their insurance agent had failed to transmit the claim to the carrier for a defense in light of the agent's assurances otherwise.  

On the final element, the court found that the Dram Shop Defendants had presented meritorious defenses to the claims provided.  

Based upon the above, the court found that the Defendants had met their burden in support of their Petition to Open the Default Judgment.

Anyone wishing to review this Opinion online may click this LINK.

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