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Inquests

If you started a case and never got an answer from the other side and the time to answer is over, you can ask the court for an inquest. An inquest is a hearing to decide the amount of money due on a claim, like when the case is about a personal injury or property damage. A hearing has to be held to decide the dollar amount of damages.

You don’t have to have an inquest to get a money judgment if the amount owed is a set amount, like a promissory note for $20,000. In this case you don’t need to hold an inquest to figure out the amount of the judgment because it is clear that it is $20,000. In this case, you can ask the Court Clerk for a default judgment.

 

Asking for an Inquest

You must ask the court for an inquest by filing a form. The process for asking for an inquest differs depending on which court you are in. Some courts require you to pay filing fees. It is best to visit a Court Help Center or use the court locator box and call the court.

In most cases you must send the defendant additional notice of the action. A copy of the pleadings must be mailed to the other side in an envelope marked Personal and Confidential at least 20 days before the inquest. The envelope can’t have anything on it to show that it concerns a court case. You will need to fill out an Affidavit of Service for the additional mailing and bring it with you to the inquest.

 

The Inquest Hearing

The inquest is just like a trial, except the other side is not there because he or she didn’t answer or come to court. When you go before the judge you will have to provide evidence about the truth of what you claimed in the Complaint or Petition. Make sure you bring all your evidence and witnesses to court.

After the inquest, the judge will make a decision based on your evidence. If you win a money judgment you can’t collect it until the judgment is entered by the court and you have told the defendant or respondent about the judgment by serving a Notice of Entry.

Remember, the testimony at the inquest is told to the judge without the other side there to object to its truth. A defendant or respondent can come to court and ask to vacate (cancel) the default judgment by making a motion or order to show cause if he or she has a good reason for not answering or coming to court, and can prove that you should not win the case. If the court vacates the default judgment, the case is active again and can be tried with both sides there. Read more in Vacating a Default Judgment.

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