It is a cliché in personal injury law to say that “you may be entitled to financial compensation.” However, getting the full amount that victims deserve after they have been hurt in a car accident is not always easy. Especially if the injuries will cost over six figures to recover from, the defendant’s insurance coverage may hit its policy limits.
When this happens, you may have to hold the defendant personally liable. Here is what that means.
The Problem: Not Enough Insurance to Cover Your Losses
Holding someone personally liable generally only becomes an issue if all other types of insurance coverage have run out.
For example, imagine that you get hit in a car accident and suffer injuries that require $200,000 in medical care, alone. However, the driver who hurt you only carries the state minimum of $50,000 of coverage for bodily injury per accident, and you only have the state minimum of $50,000 of underinsured motorist coverage per accident.
When you file a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver, their insurance would only pay up to the $50,000 policy limit. You would then turn to your own insurance coverage and recover another $50,000. This would leave you $100,000 short, to say nothing of your lost wages, reduced earning potential, and your pain and suffering.
You Can Recover Compensation from the Defendant’s Personal Assets
When you exhaust all of the sources of compensation from insurance coverage but still have not recovered all that you deserve, the next place that you can turn to is the defendant. By holding him or her personally liable, you might be able to get all that you deserve, or at least more of it.
Unfortunately, this depends on how affluent the defendant is. If the defendant is well-off, there is more to recover. If they are poor, there may be nothing.
This is why this part of personal injury law, also known as tort law, is colloquially referred to as the “tort lottery.”
How Much Can I Recover?
In Missouri, a judgment from trial or a personal injury settlement that is not paid by insurance will turn into a judgment lien against the defendant’s property. In some states, this lien can attach to the defendant’s real estate as well as to their personal property. Under Missouri Statute 511.530, however, a judgment lien can only attach to real property – like land or a house – in Missouri.
The rules get complicated very quickly, particularly if the defendant files for bankruptcy or if the real estate is co-owned by their spouse.
However, generally, if the defendant rents their property from a landlord, there is nothing to attach the lien against and you would recover nothing. These defendants are often referred to as “judgment proof.” If they own multiple properties, the lien may make them force the sale of their non-primary residence to satisfy the judgment. If they own a single property and it is their primary residence, then $15,000 of the equity can be exempted from the lien under Missouri Statute 513.475, with the remaining equity available to satisfy the judgment, which would last for ten years and can be revived.
Car Accident Lawyers at the Smith Law Office in St. Joseph
While holding a defendant personally liable does not always recover the compensation you are entitled to receive, it can be a worthwhile avenue to pursue.
The car accident attorneys at the Smith Law Office strive to help accident victims in St. Joseph, Kansas City, Springfield, and the rest of western Missouri recover what they deserve. Contact them online or call their law office at (816) 875-9373.