In the first part of this article, we discussed how a defendant’s prior criminal record could be searched and discovered before the case goes forward; in this part, we will discuss whether a defendant can be found to be “judgment proof” and why that’s important information to find out before the case goes forward.
Is the Defendant “Judgment Proof”?
A defendant is “judgment proof” if he or she is actually or effectively financially insolvent. This term applies exclusively to civil law matters, and is not, strictly speaking, a formal legal defense. Essentially, judgment proof means that it may be very difficult to enforce a judgment against such a potential civil defendant.
As such, it’s plain to see the value of knowing the financial status of the individual against whom you are considering filing suit. That is, why even bother spending a significant amount of time, effort, and money to sue a defendant for a monetary judgment that can’t even be collected?
But that begs the question: How does one go about obtaining this information?
Although divining one’s complete financial circumstances may require access to relatively hard-to-reach documentation, public records databases can nevertheless provide substantial insight.
A public records search can, for instance, tell you whether the defendant has had any bankruptcies, along with the date of those proceedings. If a defendant is currently in Chapter 13 bankruptcy, it may be very difficult to enforce a judgment against him or her — and, in some circumstances, to even file a lawsuit against the defendant at all.
Even if the defendant’s public records history doesn’t suggest any kind of financial distress, he or she may simply lack any sizeable assets onto which a lien may be attached. While it certainly is possible to conceal some assets from prying eyes, public records could reveal a defendant’s ownership of lien-worthy property.
For example, a defendant’s DMV records may reveal ownership of not only automobiles, but also recreational vehicles such as watercraft and all-terrain vehicles. In addition, real property public records data may uncover not only whether a defendant owns his or her primary residence and whether it is encumbered by a mortgage or other liens, but also whether the defendant owns any additional real property.
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Even if the defendant doesn’t own any property that’s easily discoverable through a public records search, such a search can still provide other clues to allow you to approximate the defendant’s financial circumstances.
A defendant without any publicly registered assets, for instance, may be listed as the owner of a business, and that business itself may hold a number of assets. Regardless of whether the business has any publicly traceable assets, the defendant’s affiliation with the business in itself may indicate financial resources sufficient to pay a hypothetical judgment.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that a public records search of the potential defendant will reveal absolutely no property of any value, which should give you pause before pursuing a civil action seeking monetary damages from him or her.
Thus, it’s prudent to investigate a potential defendant’s background to ensure that a lawsuit would even be worth your time.
Can the Defendant’s History Help Fill in the Blanks?
When contemplating a potential legal action, you may not have as much information as you’d like to proceed. Perhaps you have the identity of the potential defendant along with some of the relevant facts, but you’d prefer more. Maybe additional facts or other relevant parties?
Investigating a potential defendant in public records is an efficient and effective method of obtaining this information. Public records can reveal not only criminal backgrounds, as previously mentioned, but also civil lawsuits and judgments. Business and other organizational affiliations may provide further insight into the facts and other potentially relevant parties.
But perhaps one of the most useful sources of information to be scoured through a public records search is web and social media content relating to the defendant.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer an abundance of personal information that may not be found elsewhere. Many individuals chronicle the events of their lives, down to each day’s most mundane detail — including not only text data, but also photo and video as well. What’s more, with geographic tracking features now integrated into many social media offerings, it’s easier than ever for users to announce to the world where they have been — information that can be freely available for anyone to view.
Beyond social media, the internet continues to offer a glut of personal information in the form of blog posts and news stories. The advantage that these sources have over social media is that there is a higher likelihood that the defendant didn’t originally publish the information pertaining to him or her that is available through these media, and thus the information gained from these sources may be less filtered.
Because of the raw enormity of the data available through public records searches, inquiries into a potential defendant’s background shouldn’t be limited to only those sources and purposes discussed herein.
Utilizing a public records search platform to collect and arrange social media and other web information will provide you with more comprehensive results that you won’t need to spend hours scouring through.
Leveraging these resources to find out all that you can about a defendant before initiating a legal matter will likely save time and effort in the long run — and even tell you whether suing is even worth your time at all — so be sure to give yourself the leg up by taking advantage of the information that’s out there.