Cochran v. EngellandAnnotate this Case
James Cochran, the plaintiff in an unsuccessful personal-injury action, challenged a circuit court order setting aside a $2,000,000 default judgment entered against Pilar Engelland ("Pilar") after she initially failed to respond to his complaint. In 2012, Cochran was riding his motorcycle westbound on U.S. Highway 278 in Calhoun County, Alabama when he struck a horse that had entered the road. Cochran suffered significant injuries in the accident. Cochran retained attorney James Shelnutt to pursue legal remedies against any parties responsible for the presence of the horse in the road. Cochran and Shelnutt concluded that the horse struck by Cochran had escaped from a nearby farm. The owner of the farm was ultimately identified as Pilar. Shelnutt had telephone conversations with Pilar, her son, and Jerry Coley, who was leasing the farm from Pilar at the time of Cochran's accident. It appeared that the primary purpose of those conversations was to determine whether any insurance policies existed that might provide coverage for Cochran's accident. No such policies were identified, and there was no evidence that there was any more communication between Cochran and Pilar or her son after May 2013. Cochran sued Pilar and Coley alleging their negligence had caused the 2012 accident. Cochran attempted to serve Pilar by certified mail sent to the mailing address for the farm, but the notice was returned that same month marked "return to sender, not deliverable as addressed, unable to forward." The trial court record reflected that Coley was served and that he filed an answer denying liability for Cochran's injuries. Cochran proceeded to litigate his claim against Coley for approximately the next two years until May 31, 2016, when the claim against Coley was dismissed with prejudice. The trial court entered a $2,000,000 default judgment against Pilar after Cochran served her by publication with notice of his complaint and she failed to appear and file a response. When Pilar learned of the default judgment, she successfully moved to have the judgment set aside, arguing that service by publication was not proper because she had taken no steps to avoid service of process. Concurring with the trial court judgment setting aside the $2 million judgment, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, finding service by publication was improper.