How Do You Collect a Personal Injury Judgment in Florida?
So let’s say you are injured in a car accident. The other driver was at-fault. You proceed to sue the negligent driver in Florida circuit court. After going through the process of discovery and trial, a jury rules in your favor and awards you monetary damages.
So what next? Does the defendant just hand you a check? That may happen in some cases, but more often than not, obtaining a judgment is just the first step in obtaining compensation. At the end of the day, a civil judgment is just a piece of paper stating you are entitled to a certain amount of money from the defendant. The judgment does not automatically enforce itself.
The Pros and Cons of Filing a Judgment Lien
Once you have a judgment, the next step is often to file what is known as a judgment lien with the Florida Department of State. A judgment lien is basically a formal claim against the property of the defendant who owes you money. The lien can be applied to either real estate (such as a house or condo) or personal property (such as a car). In theory, once a judgment lien is filed, the local sheriff can seize the defendant’s property in their jurisdiction and auction it off to pay the original civil judgment.
In practice, however, judgment liens often fail to fully compensate for a personal injury award. For one thing, Florida law provides a number of exemptions designed to protect creditors. For example, you cannot use a lien to seize the defendant’s primary residence.
Another potential issue is that you may not have the only lien against the defendant’s property. There may be other judgment liens filed before yours, as well as superior liens like a mortgage that would need to be paid first. And if the defendant files for bankruptcy, that can result in a discharge of any debt owed to you under a personal injury judgment.
That said, filing a judgment lien is still a good idea. In Florida, a lien can last up to 10 years, so if the defendant subsequently acquires additional property subject to seizure, you may be able to collect on your judgment down the road.
Negotiating a Settlement with the Insurance Company
Many personal injury cases, especially those involving car accidents, are resolved through the insurance system rather than taking direct collection action against the negligent defendant. In other words, if you have a viable personal injury claim, the defendant’s insurance company will likely want to negotiate a settlement. You may not get as much money as you could from a jury, but on the other hand, an insurance company can guarantee quicker payment without having to go through the formal collection process.
This is why it is important to speak with an experienced Delray Beach car accident lawyer following a car accident. An attorney can help you in properly valuing a potential lawsuit or settlement and represent you in negotiating with the defendant or their insurance company. If you need legal advice, contact Leifer & Ramirez today to schedule a consultation.