After you win a personal injury lawsuit, you will still need to find a way to collect the compensation you earned. Although the courts do not handle this process, many financially stable defendants are able to pay the judgement without any issues.
However, not everyone will be able or willing to pay your settlement quickly. If the defendant in your case is not willing to pay, you can take certain legal steps to secure your personal injury award.
What Happens After a Personal Injury Case Ends?
After an accident, there are typically two paths you can pursue to secure compensation. You can file an insurance claim against the at-fault party, if your accident qualifies under an insurance policy. You can also pursue a personal injury lawsuit against him or her in civil court.
A settlement is a pre-trial resolution that can occur in both the insurance and trial processes. You and the at-fault party may reach a settlement at any time before your lawsuit goes to court, or the insurance company may offer a settlement during your claim. When you create a settlement agreement, the document will usually include information about how soon the defendant will need to pay the settlement and what would happen if he or she does not pay.
If your case ends in a trial verdict, the court will set the guidelines regarding how and when a defendant must pay. The defendant does have the right to file an appeal, but the state of California does not impose a waiting period for collecting on a judgement in civil cases. You have the right to collect the judgement immediately as long as your case meets the following criteria.
- The court has entered the judgement and the judgement is updated in the court’s records.
- There is no stay, or postponement, on the enforcement of the judgement due to bankruptcy, an appeal, or another legal matter.
What Happens If the Defendant Does Not Pay?
In many personal injury cases, the defendant is not responsible for paying the judgement by him or herself—his or her insurance company makes the payments. Because these entities have the financial means to do so and are aware of non-payment penalties, insurance companies generally make these payments on time and as the court requires. Unpaid judgements can accumulate an interest rate at 10% per year.
However, in cases where no insurance company is involved and the defendant is financially responsible, he or she may refuse to pay the award or be unable to afford it. In these situations, you have several legal options available to collect on this judgement.
- You can design a monthly payment plan with the at-fault party that includes details on due dates, grace periods, interest accruals, and where and how the defendant should pay. You can create this agreement with the defendant or ask the court to establish it.
- You can also apply to garnish a portion of the defendant’s paycheck until he or she pays his or her debt. Generally, you can garnish 25% of his or her take-home pay. However, you cannot take more than the defendant needs to support him or herself and his or her defendants.
- You can also file a levy or garnishment on another asset or property that the defendant owns. Under California law, however, there are certain pieces of property that are exempt from garnishment, such as motor vehicle equity.
Collecting on a personal injury judgement can be complex, but you have the right to full compensation for your injuries. If you are filing a personal injury claim, contact a California personal injury attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.