What Should You Know About Collecting A Personal Injury Judgment After A Car Wreck?

Posted on: 22 December 2015

If you've recently won a personal injury lawsuit against someone who injured you in a car wreck, you may be relieved to finally have vindication against the person who caused your physical and emotional pain. However, in many cases your legal battle may have only just begun. Read on to learn more about the steps you'll need to take to collect on your judgment, as well as what you can do if faced with a recalcitrant defendant.

How are judgments normally executed? 

The execution process for a personal injury judgment often depends upon the defendant's insurance limits. If the defendant held a valid auto insurance policy at the time of the crash, this insurance policy will pay the costs of the judgment up to the policy limit. However, if your judgment exceeds the defendant's insurance limits (or if the defendant didn't have auto insurance), you'll instead be collecting your judgment from the defendant's personal assets.

Your judgment gives you a number of powers under law, including the ability to seize certain assets or even garnish the defendant's wages. You'll first need to file a subpoena with the court requesting an order that the defendant provide you with information on all his or her bank accounts (including account numbers), investments, real estate holdings, and personal property. This subpoena will also request the defendant's employment information and (if married) the employment information of the defendant's spouse.

Once the court orders the defendant to provide you with this information, the defendant will have a brief period of time during which to respond to your request. The court may then order the defendant to turn over certain assets to you to satisfy the judgment, in some cases even liquidating non-residential real estate or signing over possession of non-retirement investment accounts.

If the defendant has a negative net worth (or some assets, but not enough to fully satisfy the judgment), the court may instead issue a repayment plan that involves garnishing the defendant's wages. You'll need only to provide the defendant's employer with a copy of the executed court order to begin receiving regular checks or direct deposits from the defendant's salary.

What are your options if the defendant doesn't respond to your requests? 

In some cases, a defendant may simply ignore your requests for information following the judgment in your favor. While requests submitted outside the court process don't always merit a response, when a defendant ignores lawfully-issued court orders requiring information, he or she may soon become liable for contempt of court. You'll need to bring this failure to respond to the court's attention by filing a motion for contempt. While it's unlikely the defendant will spend any time in jail if determined to be in contempt of court, he or she may be required to pay a fine (payable to you) in order to remain free after defying a court order.

When a defendant is non-responsive to requests but has a regular income, the court may still issue an order permitting you to have wages garnished. Attempts to evade this garnishment (like earning income under the table or calling in favors from the coworkers who handle garnishments) may be met with even stiffer contempt sanctions.

One final hurdle to collection of a personal judgment may take place when the defendant declares bankruptcy. In some cases, a defendant who files Chapter 7 may be able to get by without paying your judgment. However, if the injury took place while the defendant was committing a crime (like DUI) or engaged in malicious recklessness or negligence, your claim may receive priority over other debts or even survive the bankruptcy.

For more information talk to an attorney from a firm like Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP about how you can be sure to collect your settlement.