Can I pursue the responsible party’s personal assets to pay for my case?
As I discussed in my prior blog post about what happens when your case is worth more than the responsible party’s insurance coverage, you can sometimes (mostly only in rare situations) go after the responsible party’s personal assets. However, there are three questions you must consider before you decide to go after personal assets in a motorcycle accident, bicycle, pedestrian, or auto accident case.
How much is your case worth compared to the amount of the responsible party’s insurance coverage?
You want to have a realistic view of the value of your case to make this determination. This is where hiring an experienced San Francisco personal injury attorney is important. Your personal injury attorney should have a realistic idea of the value of your case. If the realistic value of your case (amount you are likely to obtain through settlement or trial) is not significantly more than the responsible party’s insurance coverage, then you probably do not want to pursue his or her personal assets.
For instance, if your case is worth $120,000.00 and the responsible party only carried $100,000.00 in liability insurance, the time, effort, stress and money it takes to obtain a judgment will probably not be worth the small amount of extra money you might (and I stress the word might) recover. Getting a judgment is time consuming (it can take over a year) and costly with expert fees, depositions, jury fees, trial costs, etc.
How many assets does the responsible party have?
You want to be sure the responsible party has sizeable (not just any) assets before pursuing them. Is the responsible party a 45 year old investment banker who makes $500,000 a year, drives a Porche and owns an apartment building in San Francisco that has a small mortgage on it, but was only carrying $50,000.00 in liability coverage when he ran you down in the bike lane?
This is very unlikely, but if he is, then he is a good candidate to go after (again, only if your case is really worth a lot more than his $50,000 coverage.) Alternatively, is the responsible party a 68 year old retired schoolteacher who lives off her retirement and social security, but only carried $50,000.00 in liability coverage? You are not likely to get much, if anything, from this person.
How “collectible” are the responsible party’s assets?
If you have determined that the responsible party does indeed have sizeable assets compared to his liability insurance coverage limits, then you need to consider how easy or difficult it will be to collect those assets. If the responsible party has a lot of debt (you can find out about this online), he can easily file bankruptcy and any judgment you have against him for your personal injury case will be worthless.
Also, the responsible party can transfer assets (like real property or accounts) into the names of family members (although doing so is illegal) or sell or spend assets by the time you get a judgment against them several months or years later. The bottom line is that, unless the responsible party has a huge American bank account full of cash that he is not going to “shuffle” around or spend, collection of the judgment will be very difficult. Typically, going after a person’s personal assets to pay for your personal injury case is not an encouraging option.