When a defendant does not respond to a plaintiff's claims in a court case, the court may grant a default judgment in the plaintiff's favor. Plaintiffs can use this powerful procedural tool to obtain judgments requiring payment of damages without the need to further pursue absent defendants.
In The Bahamas, plaintiffs can begin lawsuits by several methods, including a writ of summons, an originating summons, an originating motion or a petition. (Rules of the Supreme Court, O. 5, r. 1.) Most plaintiffs use a writ of summons. The writ must be served personally on the defendants, meaning someone delivers a copy of the document to the defendant or an authorized representative of the defendant. A defendant has 14 days after service of the writ of summons to enter an appearance to the writ action. A statement of claim either should accompany the writ or be served on the defendant within 28 days of service of the writ on the defendant. The statement of claim details the plaintiff's claim and the loss and damage the plaintiff has suffered.
After the plaintiff serves the statement of claim, the defendant has 14 days to serve a defence on the plaintiff. A defence is a document listing any defences to the claims the plaintiff makes. If the defendant does not enter an appearance within 14 days of service of the writ or fails to serve a defence within 14 days of service of the statement of claim, then the plaintiff may seek a default judgment from the court. The method of obtaining default differs depending on the kind of redress the plaintiff seeks.
If the plaintiff seeks liquidated damages, meaning a certain sum of money designated in a contract to be paid for a breach, or another specified sum, then the court can enter a judgment against the defendant for that sum plus interest and any costs incurred. (O. 19, r. 2.) The plaintiff then can seek to enforce the default judgment in the same way as a judgment obtained after a trial.
If the plaintiff seeks unliquidated damages – when the amount of damages cannot be set at an exact number – the plaintiff can enter an interlocutory judgment against the defendant. (O. 19, r. 3.) This means that the plaintiff will have to prove with supporting evidence and the court will have to assess the amount of the damages which the defendant must pay before final judgment can be entered.
If the plaintiff seeks some other kind of relief from the court, such as delivery of goods or possession of land, different court procedures apply for obtaining a default judgment. (O. 19, r. 4-5, 7.) Sometimes statements of claim request several types of relief, in which case the plaintiff can obtain the appropriate relief as described above for each claim. (O. 19, r. 6.) Sometimes plaintiffs sue multiple defendants. If a plaintiff obtains a default against one defendant, the case still moves forward against the other defendants.
To find out more about obtaining default judgments in The Bahamas, visit Gonsalves-Sabola Chambers online or call the office at +1 242 326 6400.