Oregon Case Law Update: Setting Aside Default Judgment – What is “Excusable Neglect”?

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Oregon Case Law Update: Setting Aside Default Judgment – What is “Excusable Neglect”?

From the Desk of Joshua P. HaywardWhile the courts impose deadlines on parties to file their pleadings, they also prefer to decide cases on their merits and are generally reluctant to grant default judgments.  In this case, the court analyzed whether a defendant’s or a defendant’s attorney’s negligence was sufficiently excusable to set aside a default judgment.

Claims Pointer: In this personal injury case arising out of a car accident, a defense attorney’s assistant sent a letter of intent to appear to the wrong address.  As a result, the plaintiff did not send notice of their intent to seek a default judgment.  The trial court refused to set aside the default judgment.  The Court of Appeals held that where the defendant took reasonable steps to respond to the Complaint, her attorney’s later neglect was excusable and the default judgment should be set aside.  This case provides insight into a court’s analysis of “excusable neglect,” one of several grounds for setting aside a default judgment.

Hoddenpyl v. Fiskum, 281 Or App 29 (2016).

Gerald Hoddenpyl (“Hoddenpyl”) and Kathleen Fiskum (“Fiskum”) were involved in a car accident, after which Hoddenpyl filed a personal injury lawsuit against Fiskum. After being served with the Complaint, Fiskum tendered the claim to her insurer, Farmers Insurance Company (“Farmers”).  Farmers directed its in-house counsel to respond to the complaint, and the matter was assigned to attorney Thompson. Thompson asked his staff to prepare a letter to plaintiff’s attorney, Copeland, that contained a written notice of intent to file an appearance under Oregon Rule of Civil Procedure (“ORCP”) 69 B.  Under that rule, if an intent to file an appearance is provided, then notice of the intent to apply for an order of default must be filed and served at least 10 days before seeking an order of default....

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