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Uncollected Judgments May Add Up to $ Trillions

Posted Mar 12, 2015 3:32 pm

There is one economic problem that is seldom discussed in the media -the number of uncollected monetary judgments. This refers to any type of case where someone wins a judgment in court, but is not able to collect the payment. This is something that happens far more frequently than is generally known. The results of judgments are frequently reported -such as someone winning millions of dollars in a lawsuit. However, we never hear about whether the winner of such a case actually collects this judgment.

It can be very difficult for the average person who wins a judgment to collect. The debtor may disagree with the court’s decision and simply refuse to pay. In some cases, the debtor may be facing financial problems and be unable to pay. Creditors may have trouble locating the debtor and not know how to enforce the judgment. This is a situation that most people without a legal background are not equipped to handle.

Judgment Marketplace is a company that was created to address this problem. This is a website where creditors can sell judgments to qualified bidders. Judgment creditors place a "buy now" price and buyers can purchase the judgment at that amount or make offers. much the way sites like eBay operate. The site provides many tools to help both buyers and sellers of judgments.

Judgment Marketplace has recently started a new program that gathers statistics from courthouses around the country to discover the scale of the problem of unpaid judgments. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to compile these statistics, as many courthouses do not have advanced record keeping systems. One county where we were able to obtain detailed statistics was Westchester County in New York state, but only for the Westchester Supreme Court. Some shocking numbers, which have never been reported, were discovered:

  • A total of 284,692 judgments were obtained in Westchester County Supreme Court between 1996 and 2014.
  • Total dollar amount for these judgments adds up to $10,029,585,129.
  • Total dollar amount of uncollected judgments is $8,159,894,817. This is still collectible under NYS law, where the statute of limitations is 20 years.
  • The percentage of judgments that remain uncollected is 81.3%

These statistics only include Westchester Supreme Court and do NOT include money judgments from Federal Court, Family Court, City/Town/Village Courts in Westchester (criminal misdemeanors, small claims and more). Westchester County alone might easily top $20 billion in uncollected judgments, if there was a governing body gathering these statistics and reporting them.

There is no reason to believe that Westchester County is unique in this area. The dollar amount of uncollected judgements throughout the country could easily be in the $ trillions. This is a problem that needs more attention, as it shows a major gap in our legal system. Monetary judgments don’t mean much if people aren’t able to collect on them.

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