What is a Money Judgment?

M. Lupica

Money judgments are awards of money granted after a civil trial to the plaintiff if the defendant was found liable for some harm. Money judgments are granted to parties who suffer breaches of contract, personal injury, and even can be used to punish a party whose actions were particularly egregious in what are called “punitive damages.” Winning a money judgment is just step one in the process of rectifying the harm. Collecting from the party who is determined to be at fault is often much harder to do, though there are legal mechanisms to effect the collection.

Money judgment is based on the amount of pain and medical costs associated with a personal injury.
Money judgment is based on the amount of pain and medical costs associated with a personal injury.

In a breach of contract action, the non-breaching party will often be granted a money judgment instead of forcing the breaching party to fulfill the terms of the judgment, even if the contract was for services. Generally the policy of the courts are to “make the non-breaching party whole” again, which means to have the breaching party pay the non-breaching party money that puts them in the financial position in which he or she would be had the breach never occurred. As long as the goods or services were not unique in nature, money damages are the preferred remedy of courts in a breach of contract action.

Money damages are also often awarded in personal injury actions due to negligence or an intentional harm such as assault and battery. In awarding money damages to the plaintiff in a personal injury case, the court will determine the amount of harm based on a number of factors including medical bills, pain and suffering, as well as abstract concepts such as the loss of quality of life. In negligence actions in some jurisdictions, the money damages awarded may be reduced by the proportion of fault for the injury that can be allocated to the plaintiff.

Plaintiffs are awarded punitive money damages if there were particularly egregious acts by the defendant that led to the plaintiff’s injury. Punitive damages are more commonly assessed on corporate defendants who act with disregard to public health in the interest of increasing profits. The purpose of punitive damages is not only to punish the wrongdoer, but to deter others from acting in a similar manner.

Collecting a money judgment can be tough, but there are several ways a successful plaintiff can utilize the legal system to force the defendant against whom he or she won a money judgment to pay. Some jurisdictions allow attaching the personal property of the defendant to the judgment, which means that the plaintiff may take title of the property to satisfy the debt. Another common method to satisfy a money judgment is through a bank levy, which freezes the defendant’s account. The plaintiff must then file a Motion to Turn Over Funds with the court, and if granted, the bank will be ordered to pay the funds to the plaintiff to satisfy the judgment.

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