When people win court judgments, many of them expect the defendant to hand them a check for the amount due. Sometimes that does happen, particularly in accident cases where the insurance company is responsible for paying. In cases where the defendant is uninsured or the person's policy has been maxed out, the plaintiff often has to chase after the liable party to collect the cash owed to him or her. If you've won a court award for an auto accident but the defendant hasn't made any effort to pay, here are three tips for getting your money.
Make It Easy to Pay the Entire Amount
For obvious reasons, you'll want to get the person to pay the entire amount owed at once. Not only will it save you time and frustration, but you'll also avoid paying more money to have an attorney get involved in the collection process. If you did an asset check prior to suing and you know the person has the cash to pay, sending a firm letter advising the individual of the consequences of failing to pay may be the push the person needs to finally send you a check.
Let the person know that you are legally able to charge interest on the outstanding amount. The rate varies depending on where you live (e.g. in Oregon, it's 9 percent per year), but it starts accruing the date the judgment goes into effect. It may also be beneficial to advise the person that you can garnish his or her wages and checking account and put liens on valuable property. The idea of paying even more money to you or having assets seized is usually enough to get a debtor to pay what's owed.
If it doesn't seem like the person has a lot of money, offer to give the individual a discount for paying in full right away. Give a specific day when the payment must be made to get the discount and what the amount will be if the bill is not paid by the deadline. If the person is struggling financially, he or she may jump at the chance to pay a lower amount.
Work Out a Payment Plan
Another solution you can employ if the person doesn't have enough money to pay you right away is to negotiate a payment plan. It may take awhile to get the judgment fully paid. However, it's better to get something every month than nothing at all.
As mentioned previously, you are allowed to charge interest on the judgment. This extra money can go towards paying for any legal fees you incur as a result of agreeing to a monthly installment plan (e.g. having an attorney draw up a contract).
The other thing you want to do is make sure the person will make their last payment to you before the statute of limitations for collecting a court judgment ends. The length of time available to you to collect on a court award depends on the state you live in. For instance, in California, you have ten years to get the defendant to pay what's owed. Your legal remedies for forcing payment essentially evaporate after the statute of limitations passes, so you want to ensure the person's monthly payments has him or her paying off the debt long beforehand just in case the person defaults on your agreement.
Consider Accepting Other Assets Besides Cash
The third option is to accept assets in lieu of cash. This can be a good alternative if the defendant has something you want or can sell to get the money. For instance, if the person owes you $10,000 and has a boat worth that much, then taking the boat and using or selling it may be a good way to resolve the issue.
Be certain to have the asset evaluated to ensure it's worth the same or more than the amount the defendant owes. You also need to be mindful about the costs associated with accepting the asset instead of cash. For instance, if you choose to take the boat, be aware that you'll need to pay taxes and the cost of registering it in your name.
For other ways to collect on a court judgment, talk to your auto injury lawyer.