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Montana High Court Lets Default Judgment Stand in Trucking Accident Lawsuit – Green v. Gerber et al.

By February 21, 2013July 18th, 2019Trucking Accidents

As a Missouri semi truck accident lawyer, I was interested to see a recent appellate decision on a trucking crash that the trucking company apparently neglected to defend. In Green v. Gerber et al., Linda Green obtained a default judgment against Stockton Oil Company and truck driver Ronald Ray Gerber, who was driving a truck for Stockton when he struck Green’s vehicle. Stockton failed to respond when Green served it, leading to the judgment and a determination of damages without its input. It later moved to set aside the default judgment, which the judge granted after the deadline to rule, when the motion would normally be deemed denied. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the motion should have been left denied, and to do so would not be an abuse of discretion. Green was on a public highway when her car was struck by a truck Gerber was driving for Stockton. The accident wasn’t described, but Green ended up with injuries as well as damage to her car. Stockton’s insurance company, EMC, paid $139,246.80 toward Green’s medical bills, as a resolution of her legal claim. After settlement talks went south, Green sued both Stockton and Gerber. It is undisputed that Gerber was not served and is not a party to this judgment, but Stockton was served and did not respond before the deadline expired. As a result, Green won a default judgment and was unopposed at the damages hearing, where she did not mention the payment from EMC. The court awarded $308,000 in damages plus 10% yearly interest. After Green successfully collected funds from Stockman’s bank account, Stockman moved to set aside the default judgment, arguing that the award was excessive considering the undisclosed money Green had received from EMC. The trial court let the 60-day deadline to respond expire, which normally results in the motion being deemed denied. But eight days after the deadline, the judge granted the motion without explanation. Green’s appeal argued that Stockton’s motion should have been deemed denied, and also that it was not entitled under court rules to set aside the judgment. The Montana Supreme Court agreed. It first concluded that the trial court did not lose jurisdiction entirely when it failed to act, but it erred by making the untimely order. Montana caselaw requires that deadlines be strictly enforced. The high court went on to reject Stockton’s cross-appeal arguing that Green’s failure to disclose the earlier EMC payments should have permitted it to ask that the judgment be set aside. Stockton has not shown extraordinary circumstances—including Green’s failure to disclose the EMC payments—or blamelessness that would permit this, the high court said. Thus, it reversed the trial court. I’m pleased to see this ruling because it confirms that courts hold everyone—regardless of their money and power—to the same rules. Plaintiffs like Green usually have much less money than the trucking companies we sue in our role as St. Louis semi truck accident attorneys. As a result, the trucking companies can litigate missed deadlines even when there’s no clear merit in their position, just in case it helps them keep the case alive. Courts frequently rule against poorly funded, self-represented litigants who miss deadlines, so it’s nice to see that they will do the same for litigants who are in a much stronger position. Of course, as a southern Illinois 18-wheeler accident lawyer, part of my job is to help clients make sure they meet their deadlines and jump any other procedural hurdles that could stop the court from considering their cases on the merits. If your family has suffered a serious injury or a death in an accident with a large truck, you may be able to collect compensation from the at-fault driver and trucking company. To learn more or set up a free consultation, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us an email. Similar blog posts: Ohio Supreme Court Permits Lawsuit Alleging Firefighter Misconduct to Go Forth – Anderson v. Massillon Lake St. Louis Family Suing Over Fatal Truck Accident Triggered by Logging Equipment Spill Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds Default Judgment In Truck Accident Injury Claim – Rosty v. Skaj