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An omission; a failure to do that which is anticipated, expected, or required in a given situation.

Default is distinguishable from Negligence in that it does not involve carelessness or imprudence with respect to the discharge of a duty or obligation but rather the intentional omission or nonperformance of a duty.

To default on a debt is to fail to pay it upon its due date. Default in contract law implies failure to perform a contractual obligation.

A default judgment is one that may be entered against a party in a lawsuit for failure to comply with a procedural step in the suit, such as failure to file an answer to a complaint or failure to file a paper on time. A default judgment is not one that goes to the merits of a lawsuit but is procedural in nature.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1) n. failure to respond to a summons and complaint served on a party in the time required by law. If a legal answer or other response is not filed, the suing party (plaintiff) can request a default be entered in the record, which terminates the rights of the defaulting party to defend the case. 2) the failure to make a payment when due, which can lead to a notice of default and the start of foreclosure proceedings if the debt is secured by a mortgage or deed of trust. 2) v. to fail to file an answer or other response to a summons and complaint, or fail to make a payment when due. (See: default judgment)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.


the failure to do that which ought to be done. Thus, failure to make payment under a contract is a default; more specifically, failure to repay or otherwise comply with the terms of a loan agreement are acts of default. Some legislation may provide for special notice to be given as in consumer credit or in relation to mortgages. When a defendant fails to take certain necessary steps in a court action, the court may give judgment by default.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

DEFAULT. The neglect to perform a legal obligation or duty; but in technical language by default is often understood the non-appearance of the defendant within the time prescribed by law, to defend himself; it also signifies the non-appearance of the plaintiff to prosecute his claim.
     2. When the plaintiff makes default, he may be nonsuited; and when the defendant makes default, judgment by default is rendered against him. Com. Dig. Pleader, E 42 Id. B 11. Vide article Judgment by Default, and 7 Vin. Ab. 429; Doct. Pl. 208 Grah. Pr. 631. See, as to what will excuse or save a default, Co. Litt. 259 b.

DEFAULT, contracts, torts. By the 4th section of the English statute of frauds, 29 Car. H., c. 3, it is enacted that "no action shall be brought to charge the defendant upon any special promise to answer for the debt, default, or miscarriage of another person, unless the agreement," &c., "shall be in writing," &c. By default under this statute is understood the non-performance of duty, though the same be not founded on a contract. 2 B. & A. 516.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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