Have A Judgment But Can't Get The Defendant To Pay Up? Consider These Choices

Getting a judgment in court over your lawsuit is only half the battle—the other half of the battle is getting the defendant to pay. Here are some things to consider.

Sometimes defendants can't pay up—other times, they just don't want to pay up.

You want to consider the possibility that the defendant in your case is genuinely in no position to pay any judgment that is levied against him or her. If he or she has entered a nursing home or assisted living, for example, the majority of his or her income is taken by the nursing home and medical expenses. Nursing home patients who are on Medicaid, for example, only get a $40 monthly allowance to pay for personal toiletries. Even if you could seize it, it wouldn't likely make a dent in any judgment.

Assuming that something like that isn't preventing the defendant from paying you, if he or she is able-bodied, employed, has an independent income of some sort that he or she lives on comfortably, or has considerable assets, then it's likely that he or she simply doesn't want to pay up.

Your choices are to either give up on collecting or take action to enforce the judgment.

Assuming you decide that the defendant can afford to repay and just doesn't want to, you have to decide that it's worth the effort to you to collect. It may be important to you emotionally or financially, depending on the size of the debt and the reason behind it. Simply be prepared for the defendant to attempt to slide out from under the debt any way possible.

One of the most famous examples of how hard a defendant can fight paying what he or she owes—and how a plaintiff who has been victimized can ultimately recover at least part of what he or she is owed through dogged determination—is the case of Fred Goldman and O.J. Simpson. Simpson vowed not to pay a penny of the $33 million he owed in compensation after a civil lawsuit found him "more likely than not" guilty of the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend, Ron Goldman. Ron's father, Fred Goldman spent years pursuing the ex-football star's debt, ultimately taking away Simpson's home, furniture, trophies, royalties, and more.

Most battles aren't nearly so epic or drawn-out. Instead, you likely have several different options that you can use to collect:

  • a lien against the defendant's real-estate, cars, mobile homes, RVs, or business property (depending on whether or not the defendant's business is separated into a different entity, like a corporation, or is part of a sole-proprietorship)
  • a levy against the defendant's bank account, if you know the name of the bank and the account number (perhaps through a business transaction), but only if the money in the account isn't exempt for some reason (such as retirement income)
  • a wage garnishment, which is easiest and effective against someone that is working 

Wage garnishments generally have to be sought through a court order, after you show the court that other attempts to collect the judgment have been ineffective. An attorney, like Stuart J Sinsheimer, may be helpful in this situation because he or she can make sure that you follow the necessary steps in your jurisdiction to obtain a garnishment.