If you've recently received a court judgment against a defendant whose actions caused you physical injuries, you're likely ecstatic about your victory and looking forward to being able to pay off some bills with your judgment funds. However, receiving a judgment isn't the end of the road—in order to recover the money owed to you, you'll need to execute the judgment by having the court issue a garnishment order or asset attachment.
Some defendants may attempt to shield assets by transferring them to a spouse or other family member, or will quickly spend down available funds to keep them out of your reach. Read on to learn more about executing judgments, as well as the options available when a defendant is attempting to hide assets or avoid garnishment.
Understand how judgment is executed
Once you've been granted a court judgment, your title will change from personal injury plaintiff to "judgment creditor," and the defendant becomes the "judgment debtor." As the judgment creditor, you're entitled to seek certain information about the defendant's income, assets, and bank information to help you enforce your judgment.
Your first step will usually be to file a motion with the court in a separate proceeding, often called a proceedings supplemental. This motion can usually be filed in the same court in which you litigated your personal injury claim, although in some jurisdictions you may be required to file this in a small claims court instead.
A proceedings supplemental motion will request that the court issue an order requiring the judgment debtor to turn over certain information to you or to the court to allow you to collect your judgment. You may want to request a list of the judgment debtor's bank accounts (including balances), non-retirement investment accounts, real estate, or other assets.
If the judgment debtor is employed, you'll also want information about the amount of his or her regular pay and where this pay is deposited. Once the court issues this order, the judgment debtor must provide this information within the prescribed amount of time—if they fail to do so, they may be found in contempt of court and issued a fine or even arrested.
After the judgment debtor has responded to the proceedings supplemental motion and provided you with a list of assets and account balances, your next step will depend on the amount of the assets at the judgment debtor's disposal and the amount of your judgment. If the judgment debtor has substantial assets and could easily pay the amount of the judgment from a single bank account, you may simply be able to attach (or freeze) these funds and have them transferred to your own account by providing the bank with a copy of the judgment.
In other cases, particularly when it's unlikely your judgment will be satisfied from the judgment debtor's current accounts, you may want to seek a wage garnishment. This usually operates in a similar manner as a bank account attachment, you'll just need to provide the judgment debtor's employer with a copy of the judgment and your own personal information, and this employer should be able to garnish a portion of the judgment debtor's paycheck and have this money directly routed to you.
Understand what you should do if you think the judgment debtor is hiding assets
If you suspect that the judgment debtor has engaged in fraud by hiding assets that could be used to pay the judgment (or transferring these assets to another individual), you'll likely need to go back to court to formally allege this fraud. Your attorney will be able to ask the judgment debtor questions under oath to determine where certain funds have been moved, and if this line of questioning is successful, the judge may issue an order requiring the judgment debtor to recover these funds, or requiring the non-party to transfer these funds to you.
It's important to execute your judgment as quickly as possible. Not only may you run into potential roadblocks along the way, delaying your recovery, but waiting too long could allow the judgment to expire, eliminating your right to collect. In many states, judgments will expire after 5 to 7 years, so if you haven't fully collected by this point, you may be out of luck. Click here for info about your options and for more tips on making your case as successful as possible.