You would think if you are badly hurt in a car accident, it would make sense for you to pursue a BIG judgment against the driver who hit you, right? Not necessarily…

A recent dialogue with a client  got me thinking about how backwards it may seem to folks when I tell them that I cannot recommend taking their case to trial because they may be better off taking the insurance money – even if that insurance money clearly is not sufficient to fully compensate them for their injuries.

Heck, if the insurance money isn’t enough, why wouldn’t you want to get a judgment against the bad guy and then collect the money directly from the bad guy?car-insurance

The short answer is that sometimes judgments aren’t worth the paper they are written on. You have heard the expression “You can’t get blood from a stone?” Likewise, you can’t collect on a judgment unless the person against whom you have the judgment has some money or other assets subject to collection. The plain hard truth is that most often when a person does not have good insurance coverage, they also don’t have any real $ to collect against.

  • First, collection may be difficult/impossible because of the lack of assets. You may think, why not get a judgment anyways? What if the person who didn’t have the assets to settle a judgment suddenly hit the lottery or came in to a lot of money? Well, first we would have to know about his windfall – and he’s not going to make that easy. Then he’d have to be dumb enough to put it in a bank where we could reach the money – THEN we might be able to collect on the judgment.

However, collecting on a judgment is very tough and there are plenty of ways for a debtor to hide or shelter money from collection. In fact, I have a judgment for $400,000 I obtained 8 years ago and I have spent close to $30,000 on collection lawyers and we have yet to receive a single penny. For all of these reasons, pursuing a judgment doesn’t turn out to be the solution one would think…

  • Second – and this is related to the first point – we don’t get a penny of the money from the car insurance carrier unless we sign a Release releasing the driver from any personal liability. In other words, we are over a barrel – if we want the insurance $, we have to let the driver go. I know the insurance payment is only $25,000, but $25,000 is better than a possible zero.

Now, don’t get me wrong – the insurance will pay $25,000 toward the judgment, but that is all they would be required to pay. So that leads us to the third point…

  • Third, it costs money to pursue a judgment because to do so we have to go to trial and the average cost of a trial like this would be approximately $8,000-$10,000. This is just for costs (i.e. doctor’s testimony, court costs, transcription fees, etc.) and doesn’t include a penny of my fee. I hate the idea of eating up that much in costs when the maximum insurance coverage is only $25,000.

For all these reasons, I think pursuing a judgment is not always a good idea. Ultimately, however, it is the client’s decision and I will pursue whatever course he prefers. I just help him make an informed decision.

I hope this clarifies this issue for my blog readers. Please, if you have questions about this topic, don’t hesitate to call or e-mail me for more information.



James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: and