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Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Lawyer
Category: Traffic Law
Satisfied Customers: 29979
Experience:  Lawyer. Former judicial law clerk. Worked for District Attorney's Office in Traffic Court.
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I was involved in a traffic accident 7 years ago. At the scene,

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I was involved in a traffic accident 7 years ago. At the scene, we both agreed to walk away and pay for our own damages. Later, he sued me, but served me at an old address. My old roommate took the papers but never gave them to me. The guy I was in the accident with got a judgement. I never knew anything about this until he recently tried to collect and filed a lien against my house. What are my options? I live in California.

My name is XXXXX XXXXX I'd be happy to answer your questions today. I'm sorry to hear that this happened.

If you were never served with notice of the suit, you do have the option of filing a Motion to Vacate Default. If the suit was in Small Claims Court, you have 180 days from the date you discovered the judgment. The judge will schedule a hearing, and you can go in and ask him to vacate the judgment. The judge has the ability to schedule the new trial immediately, so be prepared to explain to the judge why you were not at fault for the accident.

If the judgment isn't in Small Claims, this document will help you prepare a motion. Essentially, you need to establish both that you were not served with notice of the suit and that you have a valid defense to the claim.

If you have any questions or concerns about what I've written, please reply so that I may address them. It's important to me that you are 100% satisfied with the service I provide. Otherwise, please rate my service positively so that I get credit for answering your question. Thank you.
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Customer: replied 4 years ago.

No, he sued me in big boy court, so I would imagine I would have to file there, and I would need to hire an attorney. The expense would probably be close to the judgement amount, - then what if I lose the motion? What would happen then? What would be the follow-up to that? Hmmm.... what to do...

You're not required to hire a lawyer to file a Motion to Vacate. Any law library will have examples to show you what a Motion should look like. Essentially, if you can prove that you were never properly served and that you have a defense, there's a chance of getting it vacated. There tends to be a preference for deciding cases on the merits, not on technicalities.

However, in Superior Court, you wouldn't have an immediate trial if the judgment were vacated. You'd have a chance to file an Answer, then request discovery, and the case would proceed from there. He would have to prove at trial that the accident was your fault and that he really suffered the amount of damages he said he did. If it was at least partially his fault, then you may be able to have the amount of the judgment reduced somewhat. It might also be possible to settle for some amount less than what he is claiming.

If you lost the motion, he would proceed to try to collect the judgment the same way he is now. A lot of the equity in your house is protected, but he can try to garnish your wages or levy money in your bank accounts. He could also just put the lien on your house and wait to see if you ever try to sell. If you have substantial equity, though (more than $75,000), he could try to foreclose. However, if you had that kind of equity, you would have the option of taking a loan to try to pay him off.