Most of the time, collecting a lawsuit judgment after an auto accident injury is a matter of waiting for the insurance company to cut a check. But in some cases, your lawsuit may be against an individual driver, not the insurance company. And while writing checks to cover auto accident damages is just part of doing business for insurance companies, individual defendants can be less than cooperative about coming up with the money, even after being ordered to pay by a judge. If you haven't received a payment on your judgment—or if you're worried that you may not—take a look at what you need to know about collecting a lawsuit judgment.
Try a Bank Levy
If you're pretty sure that the defendant has the money in their bank account to pay you and you have some information about their account, then a bank levy is one of the simplest collection options available to you. A bank levy is when you simply take the money from the defendant's savings, checking, money market, or mutual fund account.
Of course, you can't simply walk into a bank and demand that they give you money in someone else's account. First, you must go to the court that issued the judgment with the defendant's name, address, the name and address of the bank, the account number if you can get it, and the amount of the judgment. You'll ask the court to give you a writ of execution. This is the document that allows you to get the money from the defendant's bank account.
The defendant might be able to object to this if some or all the money can be considered exempt from levy—for example, wages, retirement plans, and public benefits are all exempt from levy. In the case of certain federal benefits, like Social Security or veteran's benefits, the bank may be required to object to the levy. But if the funds are non-exempt, or if the debtor can't prove that they're exempt, this is a simple way to get paid.
Look into Wage Garnishment
The problem with a bank levy is that it only works if you can find the defendant's bank accounts, and if they have the money in their bank accounts. If you have no way of knowing where the defendant does their banking, or if they aren't keeping all the money you're owed in any account that you can find, you must try another way. Wage garnishment is a common route to take at that point.
You can garnish up to 25% of a person's wage to pay for a debt that you're owed. However, there are some conditions. The person who owes you money must have a regular wage, meaning that they aren't self-employed. They must also be paid a wage that's above the poverty line, and they must have no other garnishments already in effect. To garnish someone's wage, all that you need to do is bring your court documents to the local sheriff, along with the information about where the defendant works (that information is usually much easier to find than information on a person's bank account.) The sheriff serves the defendant's employer with the garnishment paperwork, and the employer garnishes the defendant's wages and forwards that portion to you.
It's natural that you would want to get all the money that you're owed, but getting something is better than getting nothing. If you can't get the money directly from the defendant's bank account and if wage garnishment isn't an option, then your options are much more limited. At this point, you may want to consider negotiating.
It may be that the defendant truly can't afford to pay you as much as you're owed. Agreeing to come down on the amount or working out a payment arrangement with some flexibility in it may be in your best interest. The defendant is more likely to try to stick to an arrangement that they've agreed to than one that has been forced on them. Just make sure that you put the agreement in writing and have your lawyer look it over before you call it a deal.
Your best bet is to work with your attorney to find the best legal way to collect your judgment. Your auto accident attorney most likely has experience in dealing with reluctant defendants. And your attorney probably has a personal interest in you getting paid, as their fee is most likely dependent on you receiving your judgment. Discuss all your options with your attorney so that you can make the best legal decision and get the money that you're owed.