If you have won a personal injury lawsuit, business lawsuit, or any other kind of civil lawsuit where you have been awarded a monetary judgment, you may think that your troubles are over. However, it may be too soon to start counting your hard-earned money. Collecting a civil judgment in South Carolina can be a difficult and involved process that requires the help of an experienced collections attorney. However, by using the legal processes for collecting on a judgment, you may be able to satisfy the judgment through the debtor's assets.
A judgment can typically be collected via the debtor's:
- Real estate;
- Bank accounts;
- Cars or trucks;
- Boat; or
- Other personal property.
Process for Collecting a Civil Judgment in South Carolina
1. Obtain a Valid Judgment
If you have won a civil lawsuit in South Carolina, your judgment will be valid for 10 years from the date the judgment is entered.
However, if you have won a lawsuit in a court outside of South Carolina, you must “domesticate” the judgment. This means that you must file a copy of the judgment with the circuit court of the county where you want to enforce the judgment. For example, if your judgment is against a defendant who has land in Charleston, you must file the judgment with the Charleston County Clerk of Court before you can obtain a lien on the land.
Once the judgment is filed, it attaches to any land owned by the person who lost the lawsuit, called the “judgment debtor.” However, certain amounts of the land may be exempt, for example, if the judgment debtor is living in a residence on the land.
2. Executing the Judgment
Although obtaining a valid judgment places a lien on real property, this does not give the judgment creditor a lien on personal property or cash in hand. You must execute the judgment. A document called a writ of execution must be prepared, attested to by the clerk of court, and delivered to the sheriff. This gives the sheriff the power to take possession of any non-exempt personal property and, if necessary, real property. This property can then be sold at a sheriff’s sale and the proceeds can be used to satisfy the judgment.
However, sheriffs in South Carolina often return the writ of execution “nulla bona,” meaning unsatisfied. The most common reason for this is that the sheriff could not find the property of the debtor.
3. Supplemental Proceedings - If Debtors Don't Have Assets or Has Hidden Assets
If the writ has been returned nulla bona or the judgment is not fully satisfied, the judgment creditor may apply to the court for supplemental proceedings. These proceedings can help by compelling the debtor to disclose information about his or her bank accounts, real property, and personal property. Without this information, the judgment creditor may be unaware of the location or amount of the debtor’s assets. With this information in hand, the creditor will be better able to execute against the debtor’s assets to satisfy the judgment.
Learn more about enforcing judgments if you are having difficulty collecting payments from the debtor.
If you need assistance, call our attorneys at (843) 968-0886.