The June 25, 2010 Des Moines Register reported that progress has been made in collection of the 5.68 million dollar civil court judgment that was entered against Rodney Heemstra for the wrongful death of Tom Lyons. I thought that this would be a good time to discuss the potential problems associated with collecting court judgments from individual defendants who have no insurance to cover the loss.  This problem can exist in any type if civil lawsuit, including claims regarding business practices and contract law, nuisance law, dog bite claims, motor vehicle accident claims, motorcycle crashes, construction defect claims, or defective product claims.

Judgment collection is generally not an issue for insured defendants. If the defendant has insurance against the loss, any judgment that you get will be paid by the insurance up to the policy limits. And if it is a car crash case, your own car insurance company may also have payment responsibility if the other driver is not insured (uninsured) or lacks sufficient insurance coverage (underinsured). Of course, if you sue a big corporation (say, for example, Microsoft or Toyota), you would hope that, insurance coverage or not, the corporation would have enough assets and money to cover the judgment.

But what about defendants that have no insurance and lack the cash, property, or assets to pay your court judgment? As has been seen from the Heemstra case, collecting on that judgment becomes much more time-consuming and doubtful. Assuming that your defendant does not just cut you a check or hand you a suitcase full of cash, you will find yourself in the same position as the Lyon estate, going through one court hearing after another trying to collect from the defendant. You will have to track down the defendant and all of the defendant’s property (usually at your own expense). You will have to wait in line behind priority creditors like the federal, state, or county government, any mortgage holders, . As demonstrated by Rodney Heemstra, you can also expect that the defendant will not cooperate in your efforts to take the defendant’s money and property.

The moral of the story is that, in cases involving a defendant that is neither insured nor wealthy, consideration must be given to the possibility that collecting on any judgment, or even part of the judgment, may be time-consuming, expensive, difficult, or impossible, or a combination of all four. And even wealthy defendants may not necessarily just stand by while you take everything that they own.

An experienced personal injury/wrongful death attorney will be able to take these issues into account when advising you regarding your case.


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