Finally, you’ve won your court case, and a judge or jury has decided that a defendant owes you money. If you think you will leave the courtroom with a big check, think again. If a defendant does not want to pay you, you may need to take additional legal action.
Here are the steps to take to get the money you are owed from an award or verdict in Pennsylvania.
Has the Debtor Agreed to Make Voluntary Payments?
First, if a debtor wants to pay you, consider accepting those payments, even if they are part of a payment plan or less than you are owed. Be flexible. A payment plan or a check for less money than you had anticipated means you do not have to proceed with a debt collection lawsuit.
Steps to Take When a Debtor Refuses to Pay You
In many cases, a debtor may refuse to pay you. In that case, you need to get a judgment against the debtor. A judgment is a legal determination by a court that a debtor owes you money. If you find yourself in this situation, these are the basic steps you can take:
1. File a judgment with the county courts. When you win a lawsuit by a verdict or award, you cannot force collection until you file a Praecipe to Enter Judgment with a county court. You should file this document in every county where the debtor lives or owns property. So, for example, if you file a judgment in Lehigh County and the debtor owns property in Montgomery County, the judgment will not act as a lien in Montgomery County. You can run a title search, credit report, or property search to find this information.
In Pennsylvania, a judgment can serve as a lien against real property for 20 years. However, you must refresh it every five years through a revival of judgment. As a result, a creditor may get paid years later when a debtor tries to sell or refinance a property.
2. File a writ of execution. If filing a judgment with the county courts does not lead to a payday, you may need help from the Sheriff’s Office. To do this, you must file a Praecipe for a Writ of Execution with the county courts. This allows the Sheriff to sell the debtor’s assets to satisfy the judgment. For example, the Sheriff can seize the debtor’s bank accounts or sell their vehicles, house, or property.
Creditors can conduct discovery in aid of execution before moving forward and request the debtor’s tax, employment, and banking information or deposition of the debtor to disclose their assets. The goal is to pressure the debtor so that they voluntarily pay the money owed.
3. Seize money from banks or third parties that owe the debtor money. To do so, you must provide the Sheriff with the writ of execution and questions known as interrogatories for the bank or third party. Once the Sheriff serves these documents, the bank will freeze the debtor’s accounts, regardless of the amount of the judgment. At this point, debtors often pay any money owed, especially when the money in their accounts exceeds the judgment amount. Once an account is frozen, the bank may be directed to pay you. You cannot freeze a marital bank account in Pennsylvania unless you have a judgment against both spouses.
4. Set a Sheriff’s sale to sell the debtor’s personal assets and vehicles. Personal assets include items like electronics, jewelry, and furniture. The Sheriff will take inventory of all assets for a sale. Debtors are prohibited from removing any listed items and face criminal charges if they do. If a Sheriff’s sale occurs, you should be prepared to take possession of the debtor’s assets. Even if the assets are not worth much, repossession can motivate the debtor to pay up.
5. Force a Sheriff’s sale of real property. This tactic can be costly but worth it if the debtor owns property that does not have a lien from a bank or mortgage company. A title search and appraisal can help you decide if this is worth pursuing. Each county in Pennsylvania has different costs and policies regarding these sales.
If you want to collect on a judgment, your attorney can advise on the steps that make the most sense for you and your family. Please reach out to an attorney at KingSpry with any questions.