Going It Alone in Your California Auto Accident Case: A Cautionary Example

Judge's gavelThere are a lot of things that go into pursuing a personal injury case, including many decisions that must be made and procedural hurdles that must be cleared. At any of a number of points in the process, making a wrong choice in how you pursue your case can cause you to lose, on procedural grounds, your opportunity to obtain the compensation you deserve. That’s what makes tackling your personal injury case on your own so risky. Just as you know all the nuances in your career field, your injury attorney readily knows all of the laws, rules, and procedural hoops that must be complied with simply to get your day in court. One injured Northern California man’s case provided a stark example, since his procedural errors led the court to throw out a default judgment in his favor and also dismiss his case entirely.

In March 2009, Jianjun Xie was involved in an auto accident in Salinas. About 23 months later, Xie decided to sue another driver involved in the accident, Vicente Navarro. Xie did not hire an attorney. Instead, he decided to represent himself.

In Xie’s case, the accident that injured him occurred in Salinas. However, Xie did not bring his negligence case in Monterey County but instead in San Francisco County. Then, there was the matter of service of process. Service of process means giving the person (or entity) you’re suing proper legal notice that a legal action is underway against them. Xie retained a process server who attempted to notify Navarro at an address on Riker Street in Salinas. The server never actually contacted Navarro, finally just nailing a copy of the paperwork to the front door of the Riker Street home.

Some time later, with Navarro still not responding, Xie asked the trial court to issue a default judgment in his favor. The trial court repeatedly denied this request because Xie neither scheduled nor completed a “prove up” hearing, which is a required element in the default judgment process in which the injured person must prove his damages. Finally, two years after he first filed suit, Xie hired a lawyer. Within a month, the lawyer scheduled a hearing, at which he introduced the injured man’s testimony about his damages. A month later, the court entered the default judgment Xie had been seeking. Shortly thereafter, Xie terminated his lawyer.

Just a few months later, Navarro, who was not representing himself, filed a motion with the court attacking the default judgment. Not only did he argue that the trial court should set aside the judgment in Xie’s favor, but also he argued that the court should dismiss the case entirely. The law gives an injured person two years after originally filing suit to serve the opposing party in a manner compliant with the law. Xie never did this, Navarro argued, since Navarro no longer lived at the Riker Street address by the time the accident took place, meaning that he was never served notice. The trial court granted both parts of Navarro’s request.

Xie appealed, still representing himself. The California Court of Appeal upheld the decision setting aside the default judgment in Xie’s favor. A procedural failure was his undoing. California law requires an injured person to serve the other side with a statement of damages, and to do so in the same way as serving a court summons. Xie didn’t do that, so he wasn’t entitled to a default judgment.

The trial court was also entitled to dismiss the case. The fact that it took Xie a year and a half to obtain the default judgment from the time he first began pursuing that request, including the long delay in scheduling the “prove up” hearing, was an adequate basis for the trial court to conclude that the injured man was not reasonably diligent in pursuing his case.

Winning your auto accident case requires a detailed understanding of the facts of your case. It also demands a careful and in-depth understanding of the law and court procedure rules. The experienced Oakland car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch are here to help you through the process from beginning to end. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Failure to Word Statutory Settlement Offer Properly Costs Defendants in California Motorcycle Accident Case, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, May 16, 2016

How a Waiver Agreement Can Cost You in Your California Auto Accident Injury Suit, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, March 31, 2016