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What Happens If You Lose an Injury Lawsuit by Default?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 10, 2016 3:56 PM

Not every lawsuit has merit. And if you think you've been sued for no reason, you might be tempted to just ignore it. After all, why dignify false accusations with a response? While that might be a compelling perspective when faced with a verbal argument, the legal system doesn't quite work that way. And ignoring a lawsuit, rather than pointing out to a court why the lawsuit is frivolous, could mean the person suing you automatically wins.

Look no further than Hillary Clinton, who was declared in default by a court clerk for apparently ignoring a wrongful death lawsuit regarding her involvement (or lack thereof) in the attack on American facilities in Benghazi, Libya in 2012.

Refusal to Respond

The lawsuit, brought by parents of two sons who were killed in the attack and filed by longtime Clinton enemy Larry Klayman, alleges Clinton's use of a private email server while Secretary of State "directly and proximately caused" the deaths of Sean Smith and Tyrone Woods. Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill released a statement in response: "While no one can imagine the pain of the families of the brave Americans we lost at Benghazi, there have been nine different investigations into this attack and none found any evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing on the part of Hillary Clinton."

Unfortunately for Clinton, that statement doesn't qualify as a legal response to the lawsuit. She and her lawyers have yet to file a formal response to the lawsuit, and court documents claim her Secret Service delegation and campaign aides have consistently refused to accept the court summons. And the court has ruled that she is now in default for having failed to answer the complaint.

Default vs. At Fault

The court's ruling doesn't mean that Clinton is legally liable ... yet. The presidential candidate can still file a response or ask the court for an extension. But the default ruling is one step in the direction of a default judgment, which could put Clinton on the hook for damages.

In order to keep lawsuits moving along and provide some predictability, there are time limits on filing claims, along with responses and pre-trial motions. And there are penalties for missing these deadlines. The penalty for failing to respond to a lawsuit at all could ultimately be a judgment in the plaintiffs favor. While Clinton hasn't hit that stage yet, she and her legal team may want to craft a formidable response, even if they think the suit is flimsy.

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