Collecting Personal Injury Judgments
UPDATED: February 10, 2020
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If you have suffered an injury in a slip and fall accident, a car accident, or any other incident that involves another person rather than a government or business you may have a legitimate concern about collecting the money you are awarded. Collecting money after a personal injury judgment can be difficult and require the assistance of an experienced attorney.
TIP: Deciding to file a lawsuit should not only involve a careful assessment of the likelihood of winning, but it should also include an evaluation of the chance of collecting money if you win. The harsh reality is that personal injury cases cost time and money to pursue, so if the defendant is unemployed or doesn’t have insurance or assets, your claim may not be worth the cost of filing. Speak with an attorney for assistance.
Collecting Personal Injury Judgments from Insurance
If you filed a claim and the judge ruled in your favor, the first thing to do is to find out whether or not the defendant (known as the debtor if you win your case) has insurance. Often, the insurance company will be responsible for paying you should you succeed in your claim. Typically an insurance company will be involved in the case from the start as you will likely need to file a claim before pursuing legal action, but if you haven't heard about insurance until after the case then you'll need to bring up the issue as soon as possible.
If the debtor does not have insurance or it’s not sufficient to cover the cost of all of your injuries, you will need to go after the debtor personally. Even if the debtor does not have sufficient funds to pay the judgment immediately, there are legal avenues to pursue that can result in payment over time.
In most states, if the debtor is employed and fails to pay the judgment, you may be able to get a wage garnishment. This is an order to the debtor’s employer to give you up to 25% of the debtor’s wages. However, you will not be able to take the debtor’s Social Security, disability, pension, unemployment, or welfare checks. This means that if the debtor is living off of these sources, you’ll likely need to find another way to collect the judgment. Nevertheless, even if the debtor does not have any money right now, if he or she gets a job in the future, you may be able to collect future income or assets. Judgments can frequently be collected for many years as long as you file the correct paperwork to keep renewing them.
You should also find out if the property owner has any bank accounts. If so, you may be able to establish a levy on them; this means that money will be taken out of the debtor’s accounts to pay for the judgment.
Additional Legal Action
If the person who caused your injuries owns any land, houses, or other buildings, you may be able to get an abstract of judgment. The purpose of this is to create a public record and put a lien on the owner’s real property. If the property is sold, the judgment will be paid out of the proceeds of the sale.
Another option may be to conduct a judgment debtor’s examination. The court will order the debtor to appear in court to answer questions under oath about the existence of any bank accounts, property, employment, or other things that could be used to pay the judgment. This will also allow you to subpoena the property owner’s bank books, paycheck stubs, and other documents. The judge may even order the debtor to turn over any assets in his or her possession to you on that day.
Hiring an Attorney for Your Personal Injury Claim
These are just a few ways to obtain money should you get a judgment in court. Unfortunately, if the person responsible for your slip and fall does not have insurance, money, or assets, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to collect anything. However, it’s important to consult an attorney experienced in personal injury claims in your state so you are aware of all the options for your particular case.