Filing and litigating a personal injury lawsuit takes enormous patience and a lot of work. Further, winning a case is not always the end of the journey. Lawsuits always involve money, and once the judge or jury issues a verdict, the next step is collecting your money.
To understand the civil justice system fully, it’s important to consider the perspectives and challenges of both the plaintiff and the defendant. One question you might have is: What happens when the defendant loses a lawsuit?
Every case is different, but like any stage of a lawsuit, both sides must follow a set of orderly procedures. Here’s a primer on the process from our team of personal injury attorneys at Alvarez Law.
What Is a Judgment?
Before a verdict in a civil lawsuit can become official, it must be converted into a judgment, also known as a court order. A judgment makes the court’s decision formal, whether reached by a judge or a jury. In this context, a judgment reflects an award of money. In a criminal matter, a judgment reflects the judge’s or jury’s guilty or not-guilty verdict.
The court must enter the judgment formally to allow you to move ahead with collection efforts. It might strengthen your ability to seek wage or bank account garnishments, where you take a portion of the money damages from the defendant’s paycheck on a weekly or monthly basis. A judgment can also help you seek a lien on the defendant’s home, which then can be sold and converted to money to help satisfy the judgment.
What Does It Mean To Revive a Judgment?
Judgments do not last forever. In Nevada, a judgment expires after six years if not collected. If your particular judgment expires, then it’s uncollectible by law, making it worthless and permanently unenforceable.
However, in Nevada as in other states, you can file papers to “revive” the judgment for another six years. The process for reviving the judgment only requires you to file an affidavit to make that request. Under Nevada law, you must file the renewal affidavit at least 90 days before the judgment’s expiration date.
The revival affidavit must include specific information, such as the exact amount still due. You can file additional revival affidavits for as long as you need if you do so before the expiration date. In theory, you can continue to revive the debt into perpetuity.
What Happens if You Cannot Pay?
Defendants in a lawsuit might claim they don’t have the money to pay a judgment. You can still pursue your case, even if the defendant is insolvent. Just because someone lacks resources today does not mean they also will tomorrow, so you should continue to go forward with your case.
You have ways of collecting even if someone cannot pay. You can ask the judge to issue an order that would turn over various items of the defendant’s property to you, such as a car or a house. You can also seek a court order to garnish the defendant’s wages, which means taking a portion of their paycheck each week toward satisfying the judgment. Note that the law allows for certain exemptions, so some items might be judgment-proof.
Judges also have the flexibility to suggest a repayment plan over time. Defendants must be realistic and careful not to agree to a repayment plan beyond their means because it could put them in violation of a court order and have additional ramifications, such as penalties and interest.
One of the most important steps for defendants to take when having difficulty paying a judgment in a lawsuit is to communicate honestly and openly. It’s easier to seek areas of agreement to resolve a matter than it is to continue to act in an adversarial matter.
Can You Go to Jail if You Cannot Pay?
A court cannot put a defendant in jail for failing to pay the judgment in a lawsuit — at least, not directly. As we’ve discussed, you as the plaintiff can file a personal injury lawsuit to seek compensation for a variety of injuries. These can include your direct medical costs, including hospitalization, lost wages for time missed at work, and pain and suffering.
Once you receive the judgment, you have every right to enforce it to the fullest extent of the law. Failure to pay alone is not grounds for being jailed. However, sometimes litigation includes follow-up proceedings where defendants must appear to give testimony about their assets.
Those proceedings involve testimony under oath and the reasons the defendant has not yet paid. If you fail to appear, or if you answer the questions dishonestly, a defendant can be found in civil contempt and sent to jail. In Nevada, a conviction on a charge of civil contempt might include penalties such as a $500 fine and up to 25 days in jail.
Another potential scenario that could lead to jail time involves seized property. If you, as the plaintiff, successfully seize a defendant’s home, for instance, and the defendant subsequently re-enters the property, they could be subject to civil contempt charges and jail time.
Personal Injury Attorneys at Alvarez Law
Getting a favorable verdict in a lawsuit is only the first step toward compensation for personal injury damages. The collection phase presents its own set of challenges. To learn more about how the legal process unfolds in a civil case, contact our attorneys at Alvarez Law, with offices in both Indianapolis and Chicago, as well as South Bend, Crown Point, and Hammond, Indiana. Our personal injury team has extensive experience getting individuals the justice they deserve after being injured because of someone’s negligence or recklessness.
We represent clients in auto, truck, and other vehicle accidents, construction site accidents, premises liability cases, wrongful death, nursing home neglect, and abuse and workers’ compensation. Call us today for an immediate, no-obligation consultation. You can reach us 24 hours a day, seven days a week by phone at 219-641-3468 or fill out our convenient online form via our secure messaging system.