Collecting A Civil Judgment
You sued. You won. The check’s in the mail, right? WRONG.
When you win a civil lawsuit that results in a monetary judgment, it is up to YOU (or your attorney) to collect that judgment. It can be a lengthy process. You or your attorney must initiate the collection process, and even that isn’t a guarantee that you’ll get paid.
“In Tennessee, collecting a judgment can sometimes be more difficult than obtaining a judgment,” said Kevin Snider, certified fraud examiner and founding attorney of your #WiseChoice law firm, Snider & Horner, PLLC. “There is a misconception that when you win in court, the other side has to pay, and that is simply not the case.”
To initiate the process, you or your attorney will have to start at the court clerk’s office. Its staff will offer these options, according to my experiences, legal sources and court officials. Each will cost you some sort of filing fee:
- WAGE GARNISHMENT. You file to garnish the other guy’s wages right out of his paycheck, assuming he has a job.
- PROPERTY LIEN/LEVY. File a lien to collect on a defendant’s real estate or vehicle. File a levy to go after the defendant’s checking or savings account.
- CONDITIONAL JUDGMENT. If the person you sued won’t respond to a garnishment, lien or levy, you can file a conditional judgment with his or her employer. That will force the employer to put pressure on the defendant to pay.
- SUBPOENA IN AID OF EXECUTION. If all else fails, file one of these. A subpoena in aid of execution will force the defendant back to court with his bank statements, checkbooks, account numbers, any assets that can be liquidated to collect your judgment. If the defendant doesn’t show up, the judge may hold him in contempt. That could land him in jail.
In Tennessee, a civil judgment is good for ten years. A plaintiff can file to renew it for another decade, but only once. A consumer also has the option of filing a post-judgment. That would add ten percent interest to the balance of the judgment for every year the defendant doesn’t pay.
Still, none of these is a guarantee that the defendant will pay up. “If you have someone without income or assets to go after, you can have an extremely difficult time ever collecting,” Snider said. “Moreover, if that person files bankruptcy, you could be barred from ever collecting it.”
You will have to decide whether the additional time and filing fees are worth the effort.
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