Winning a personal injury lawsuit doesn't guarantee you'll get paid. Luckily, the legal system provides plaintiffs with a number of tools they can use to make defendants pay. At the same time, though, there are laws that protect defendants as well, and here are two of them that could impact your recovery efforts.
Tenants in Entirety
A person's marital status doesn't prevent you from going after their assets. However, it can limit the type of assets you can confiscate or use to pay the judgment in the case. For instance, marital property owned by both parties is typically fair game, but separate property owned only by the person's spouse can't be touched.
In some cases, though, even marital property owned by both spouses will be beyond your reach. In particular, the law prevents creditors from using any piece of real estate with a 'tenants in entirety' title to satisfy a judgment if only one of the owners of the property is liable for the court award.
Unlike community property, where each spouse owns a part of an asset, a 'tenants in entirety' title bestows complete ownership of the asset to both parties. There's no way to sue for the liable party's portion of the asset because their spouse is entitled to the entire value of it. So you wouldn't be able to force the person to sell their home and give you their half of the proceeds as you would with regular community property because the spouse would be legally entitled to all of it.
Unfortunately, a 'tenants in entirety' title can only be dissolved by divorce or voluntarily eliminated by both parties. In this situation, it's best to hire an attorney to help you identify other unprotected assets owned by the liable party and go after those.
Property Value Exemptions
Another law that can affect your collection efforts is property exemptions. In some states, debtors are allowed to exempt property from creditors' collection action if the value of the property falls under a certain amount. For example, in Florida, you wouldn't be able to take the defendant's vehicle if the car or truck is worth less than $1,000. Some states even let debtors escape wage garnishment if they are the head of the household and make under a certain dollar amount per week.
Thus, property value exemptions can put some of the defendant's assets beyond your reach or even make the person judgment-proof. However, circumstances do change, and many states give plaintiffs several years to collect on their judgments and allow them to reset the time limits if certain conditions are met. So, in this case, patiently waiting for the defendant's financial situation to improve may be the best course of action to getting paid the money owed to you.
An attorney can provide much-needed advice on how to collect your court award when presented with these or other challenges. Therefore, it's a good idea to consult with a local lawyer for help with your personal injury case. Contact a local personal injury law firm, such as Siben & Siben LLP, to learn more.Share