Most private sector lawsuits end with some sort of monetary award. When the defendant wins, the monetary award usually amounts to covering court costs and attorney’s fees. But when the plaintiff wins, awards can be significantly higher. Here is the thing: winning a judgment does not necessarily guarantee payment.
Unfortunately, that is one of the biggest mistakes individuals and small companies make when going to civil court for the first time. They assume that civil courts enforce judgments in the same way that criminal courts enforce convictions. But that is not how it works. Civil courts rarely involve themselves in collection efforts.
Wage Theft in California
A perfect illustration of the point at hand comes from California, where only about 1 in 7 judgments related to wage theft our ever paid. Take the case of a former hotel front desk manager who won a $200,000 judgment against a former employer in 2017. As of May 2023, he still had not been paid.
His former employer delayed making payment by countersuing. The employer also appealed multiple times, eventually making it to the supreme court twice. So after five years and plenty of legal wrangling, the plaintiff was still waiting for his money.
The case involves an ongoing problem in California. Wage theft is a big deal in the Golden State and one that can take years to resolve. But think of all the other reasons people file civil lawsuits. If it is not personal injury or product defect, it could be something like unpaid rent, unpaid utility bills, destruction of personal property, and so forth.
The Fundamental Issue Is Enforcement
By now you might be wondering how a successful plaintiff could still be waiting to be paid five years after winning a judgment. It turns out that enforcement is the central issue. In criminal court, a conviction requires the court to pass sentence. Between the court and law enforcement, the sentence is enforced. That is not the way it works in civil court.
Civil courts have limited enforcement authority. They can render judgments all day long, but enforcement is left up to the winning parties. Courts are only involved on a limited basis:
- Courts can order debtors to appear in order to compel interrogatories.
- Courts in some states can issue bench warrants when debtors fail to appear.
- Courts can order writs of execution and garnishment when necessary.
There is not much beyond these three things that courts can do to aid enforcement efforts. Whether or not a judgment is actually collected depends mainly on the diligence of the creditor and the tools and strategies utilized to collect.
Turning to a Collection Agency
Turning to a collection agency is the best option given the difficult nature of collections. A company like Judgment Collectors in Salt Lake City, UT, puts skilled professionals in your court. Judgment Collectors is a collection agency that is solely focused on judgments. They represent the type of agency a judgment creditor should turn to from day one.
Getting a collection agency involved right away maximizes the agency’s opportunities to leverage every available tool to maximum effect. The sooner a collection agency is involved, the harder it is for debtors to hide assets, skip town, or employ other means of avoiding payment.
Whether it is a wage theft case, a personal injury case, or even a bad debt case, winning a judgment never guarantees payment. Winning is just the first step toward enforcing collection with a variety of tools that would not be accessible without a legal judgment. If you plan to sue, be prepared to put some effort into collection.