Default judgment is thrown out
Jerry Hill sued the operator of his adult foster care home, alleging that he suffered a beating at the hands of trespassers who were not intercepted by home employees because there were no supervisory employees on duty. When the owner's daughter refused to turn the legal complaint over to the owner's insurer, Hill's attorney entered a default, and ultimately a default judgment for $500,000.00. The owner, Oscal Rowls, then sought to set aside the default, claiming that he was not mentally competent to respond to the Complaint and had a meritorious basis for failing to answer it. The trial court rejected his explanation for failing to answer and refused to set aside the Judgment.
The Court of Appeals overturned the trial court's decision, however, terming it an "abuse of discretion". The Court gave full credence to Rowls' doctor's affidavit that Rowls was not competent, despite the fact that Rowls (and his daughter) were apparently engaged in the day-to-day operation of a sophisticated foster care rental facility. Perhaps, given the fact that no one was on duty when the Plaintiff was beaten, Rowls' claim of incompetency should be accepted at face value. Under the circumstances, however, this seems yet one more example of a double-standard under which insured defendants are always allowed their "day in court" in an era where even the slightest mistake will deny an injury victim's right to be heard.
If a lenient standard is to be adopted to excuse an operating business from responding appropriately to its legal obligations, we'd expect the same lenient standard to apply to injury victims with myriad disabilities who are slow in hiring a lawyer or in fulfilling procedural requirements. Sadly, with the Chamber of Commerce buying influence among the judiciary, this uniform standard has not been maintained in Michigan.