Being Sued for a Car Accident: What Can they Take?

Las Vegas Car Accident

Driving without insurance is risky. If you are found at fault for the collision, the law will obligate you to pay compensation to all victims. Ultimately, you can be responsible for paying money for a victim’s medical care, lost wages, property damage, and pain and suffering. When accidents are severe, injured victims often deserve hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

If you had a large enough insurance policy, then your insurer would negotiate a settlement with the victims and they would sign a release of liability, which means they would not sue you for the same accident for more money.

However, even someone with insurance might face a personal lawsuit against them. The reason is simple: a victim might have losses which exceed the policy limit. Someone who is paralyzed, for example, might have losses exceeding $1 million. Nevada only requires that motorists carry a bodily injury liability policy with a minimum of $25,000 in coverage.

Below, our Las Vegas car accident lawyer answers some of the more common questions about what assets an accident victim can receive if they sue you. Contact Ladah Law if you have a question.

Why can accident victims take assets?

An accident victim can only come after your personal assets if they have a court judgment in their favor. This means they will need to sue you and win, at which point they become a “judgment creditor” in the legal lingo. The judgment is for a sum of money the jury or judge decides on.

If you have the cash, you can pay the court judgment. The victim might also agree to a payment plan where you pay a certain amount regularly until the debt is paid off. You would need to discuss this with the judgment creditor.

Nevada Revised Statute § 21.080 allows someone with a court judgment to enforce it by asking a sheriff to execute on “all goods, chattel, money and other property.” That is a very broad right to execute on your property. The sheriff can then sell these assets at auction to raise money. After deducting for certain expenses related to the auction, the sheriff gives the judgment creditor the rest of the proceeds. However, the law also exempts a laundry list of assets from execution—which we will talk about more below.

Possibly losing personal assets is the direct consequence of harming someone negligently or intentionally. There are laws against texting while driving and other dangerous behavior. If you violate one of these laws, you must compensate victims by paying money damages.

Can a victim take my home?

No. Some assets are exempt by law. Your home is probably exempt under NRS § 115.010. This law says your homestead is not subject to any forced sale by a judgment creditor. However, only $605,000 in equity is exempted.

To determine equity, you need to subtract any mortgage or other lien from the value of the property. For example, your home might be worth $900,000 but you have $400,000 remaining on the mortgage. In this case, the equity is only $500,000, and it is all exempted from forced sale.

Remember, this exemption applies to your “homestead.” If you own multiple pieces of real estate around Nevada, you do not get to exempt all of them. You can only exempt your homestead—other properties remain vulnerable to being taken by a judgment creditor.

In some cases, a property is fully exempt if you have “allodial title.” This is a legal way of holding property, and you should meet with an attorney to review whether that applies to you.

Can they take my car?

They can if you have enough equity in it. The law exempts from execution up to $15,000 in equity for one vehicle. So if your car is only worth $10,000, the judgment creditor cannot take it. They also can’t take it if the car is worth $30,000 but you are still paying a car loan of $28,000. In this example, there is only $2,000 in equity.

Can they take my retirement account?

Probably not. Nevada exempts from execution up to $1,000,000 in individual retirement accounts, including Roth IRAs. The same amount is exempt from a written simplified pension plan.

Even better, if you inherited either an IRA or pension, then they are eligible for exemption as well.

Can a judgment creditor take cash in a bank?

Probably. Unless the cash is exempted—such as Social Security retirement benefits—they can ask the sheriff to execute on the bank account. The logic of the law is that you should use these funds to pay the judgment creditor what you owe, so they are allowed to take it if you do not voluntarily hand it over.

What about life insurance proceeds?

Under Nevada Revised Statute 21.090(k), all money and benefits growing out of life insurance are exempt from execution.

Can the victim garnish my wages?

Yes. However, the law limits the garnishment. Specifically, NRS 21.090(g) exempts from execution 82% of all disposable earnings if your weekly earnings were $770 or less. If your wages exceed $770, then 75% of the disposable earnings are exempt. “Disposable earnings” are essentially what is left after required deductions are withheld.

Can a victim take my Social Security payment?

No. The law fully exempts any payment pursuant to the Social Security Act, including retirement or disability benefits. Also exempt are survivor’s benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments.

Are household furnishings exempt?

Yes. Up to $12,000 in “necessary household goods,” clothes, electronics, and furnishings are exempt, whether they belong to you or a dependent like your child. You get to choose which to exempt should you have furnishings and goods in excess of $12,000.

Are family law obligations exempt?

Many people are receiving monthly payments for child support or alimony. Nevada law does exempt these payments if they are being paid pursuant to a court order. However, if your ex just hands you an extra $500 in an envelope to pay for your child’s clothing, then that money would not be exempt.

Should I settle my case or try to execute on the defendant’s assets?

This is a reasonable question. After all, by settling a claim, you might not get as much as you possibly could if you litigated your case before a jury. However, there are costs associated with that strategy.

For example, you might lose your lawsuit, in which case you get nothing. By settling you are guaranteeing some sort of compensation for your injury. And, with the right lawyer, you can often get the maximum compensation allowed.

Furthermore, executing on assets is a time-consuming and possibly expensive proposition. Some defendants fight any execution, in which case you incur costs of going into court and fighting it out. The assets might not even be worth a lot of money, in which case very little will be left after auction.

If you were hurt in an accident, we always discuss suing the other driver personally and possibly executing on their personal property. But that road is often not necessary. Someone with a lot of assets (such as a million-dollar home) probably carries more than the bare minimum of $25,000 in bodily injury liability coverage. Instead, they probably have an umbrella insurance policy in addition to car insurance.

Speak with a Las Vegas Car Accident Lawyer Today

Ladah Law has the years of experience needed to ensure that our clients obtain meaningful compensation following an accident. If you were involved in a wreck, reach out to us today.
Get in touch with us by phone at (702) 252-0055 or reach out to us online for a free, no obligation initial consultation.