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An individual or a company who claims that another person owes them money can bring a lawsuit against that person.  The person or business bringing the lawsuit is, of course, referred to as a “plaintiff” and the person being sued is referred to as a “defendant.”  If the plaintiff wins the lawsuit the court will issue a judgment against the defendant.  A judgment is a court-issued document instructing the defendant to pay a specific sum of money to the plaintiff.  The defendant is now referred to as the “debtor” and the plaintiff as the “creditor.”

But what happens next?  Unfortunately, judgments do not enforce themselves.

In easy cases a debtor will voluntarily pay the judgment, in part because an unpaid judgment can severely harm a credit rating.  And a debtor who is reluctant to pay can often be pushed to do the right thing, without the need for any further legal action, if he is repeatedly reminded of his debt, perhaps by a bill collection agency hired by the plaintiff.

The difficult cases are those in which the debtor can pay at least a part of what he owes, but simply refuses to do so.  He may hide his assets or try to arrange them so that the creditor cannot reach them.  The strategy of many of these individuals is to make it so costly and difficult that the creditor will simply give up his collection efforts.  Often this strategy works, in many instances because the creditor does not have an attorney or because the debtor’s attorney is unwilling to use all the tools that the law makes available to creditors.

If a debtor refuses to pay, a creditor is legally entitled to seize the debtor’s assets (including a portion of the debtor’s salary) to pay off the debt.  But state laws prevent certain assets from being seized and the law relating to debt collection is often vague and confusing, making the collection process far from straightforward.  This is especially true in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, because the laws of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia can be very different and area residents often have assets or jobs in more than one of these jurisdictions.  Moreover, a judgment is only valid in the state where it is issued unless the debtor uses the proper procedure to make it valid in another state.  Collecting money owed on a judgment from a debtor resisting payment will be very difficult without the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable attorney.

The Kaplan Law Firm aggressively litigates cases in which a person or business will not pay what it owes pursuant to a judgment.  We will attempt to find hidden assets and, where permissible, we will seek attorneys’ fees and interest from the debtor, in addition to the initial amount indicated on the judgment.  We can handle many of these cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning that no payment of attorneys’ fees is owed unless we are successful.

If you have a judgment, but are having difficulty getting paid, you may contact us for a free consultation.   You may contact us by email at or by telephone at (703) 665-9529.