You do not automatically receive compensation when the small claims court rules in your favor. Winning an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit does not guarantee you will obtain the compensation owed. The defendant must have the means to pay the settlement or verdict ordered. If the responsible party cannot pay, you may have other outlets available for financial recovery. Otherwise, you might end up paying for your losses out of pocket.
Find Out Whether the Defendant Can Pay
The best thing you can do is hire a lawyer that practices the type of law involved in your case, such as auto accident or premises liability law. A lawyer can help you determine the identity of the responsible party (defendant) as well as investigate the defendant’s ability to pay. A law firm will have connections to investigators who can assess the defendant to find out if he or she is judgment-proof (does not have enough money to pay out a settlement or verdict) or has hidden his or her assets well enough to make obtaining compensation difficult. Collecting compensation from these defendants could be impossible.
Look Into Insurance Coverage
Although most individuals do not have the cash on hand to pay a settlement or judgment award out of pocket in full, they do have insurance companies that can afford to pay. Auto accident insurance is mandatory in Nebraska, for example, meaning all drivers who are financially responsible and purchased insurance will have the means to pay for awards won in fault-based car accident claims or lawsuits. Your Orange County injury lawyer can investigate the defendant to find out if he or she has an insurance policy that may be able to pay for your damages.
If not, your own insurance provider might cover your damages. Depending on the nature of the accident and your unique policy, your insurer might offer benefits to cover your losses. If the responsible party cannot pay after an auto accident, for instance, you might have automobile insurance coverage that will kick in instead. Call your insurance provider and ask whether you have uninsured motorist insurance. This type of coverage can pay for your damages after an auto accident if the at-fault party cannot. In other types of cases, your health insurance or homeowners insurance company might offer benefits.
Garnish the Defendant’s Wages
If the responsible party cannot pay outright but has a job, the courts could order the defendant to pay over time through the garnishment of his or her wages. Wage garnishment automatically deducts a portion of the debtor’s paychecks and sends it to the party owed until he or she has completely paid off the debt. This might be a suitable option if the at-fault party has a paying job and will not pay a judgment voluntarily. In general, Social Security income, welfare, unemployment pay, pension and disability benefits are exempt from garnishment.
Bring a Claim Against a Third Party
Your claim might have more than one responsible party. The most obvious defendant might not be the only person or entity responsible for causing your accident or injuries. In an auto accident, for example, the other driver might have failed to yield, but the property owner could share fault for designing an unsafe parking lot. Hire a lawyer to investigate your accident for signs of third-party negligence.
- An employer
- A business
- A product manufacturer
- A property owner
- A contractor
- A physician or hospital
If an attorney finds evidence of third-party liability, this could open the possibility of a claim against someone other than the person who cannot pay. If that person was working at the time of your accident, for instance, his or her employer may be vicariously liable for your damages. The employer could have adequate insurance coverage even if the individual did not. A third-party insurance claim or injury suit could lead to compensation for your losses.