Even though you may have a slam-dunk case that will net you thousands of dollars in compensation for damages, it won't do you much good if the defendant can't pay the judgment. Before spending time and money litigating your case, it's a good idea to determine if the defendant has enough money and assets to pay for your losses. Here are a few tips for conducting a pre-litigation asset search.
Types of Information to Look For
To get a clear picture of the defendant's financial health, you'll want to search for a variety of information. This includes locating assets that can be used to pay the judgment such as:
- Residential and commercial property
- Vehicles such as cars, boats, and airplanes
- A business with associated assets
- Pending lawsuits and judgments in their favor
- Pending inheritances
- Assets hidden under shell companies or overseas
You'll also want to learn about any liabilities the person may have. Though the individual may appear to be rich in assets, the money and property may be tied to debts or otherwise unavailable to pay a court judgment. These liabilities may include:
- Bank loans and mortgages
- Liens resulting from unpaid debt owed to tax agencies, contractors, and other creditors
- Fines and penalties
- Court judgments from other lawsuits
- Criminal cases that may result in jail time, impacting the person's ability to pay
- Bad investments
- A failing business
- Property and other assets caught up in probate court
- Pending or ongoing bankruptcy
This is not an exhaustive list, but it should provide you with a good place to start looking, and the information you get should give you a general idea of what is happening in the defendant's life that may impact his or her ability to satisfy a judgment. Having this information can also provide you with leverage you can use to negotiate a better settlement.
How to Find Information
There are several different ways you can gain intelligence about a defendant's assets. You can start with a simple search online using information you already have about the person such as his or her name, email address, street address, and phone number. Using search engines and tapping into popular social networks, you can uncover a lot of data about people.
For instance, people tend to over share on social networks. By reading through the defendant's profile, you'll likely learn where the individual lives and works, about any financial troubles or windfalls the person experienced, or about court trouble he or she may have had (e.g. divorce, personal injury lawsuit).
If you have the person's address, you can go to your local assessor and registry offices to determine if the individual owns the house or land. For instance, the land registry offices in Ontario will let you look up deeds, mortgages, and title information on land ownerships. You can go to a local office or use the agency's website. Using the person's name, you can also look up other property the person may own.
Another good tool to use is a public records search website. These sites compile publically accessible information from courts, government agencies, and other organizations into one database. Using a site like this, you can learn about assets the person may own, lawsuits the individual was party too, previous addresses and other helpful information. Typically these sites charge an access fee, so you'll need to factor that into your costs.
If you simply don't have the time or energy to do the asset search yourself, you can hire a third-party individual or company to do it for you. There are private detectives and specialized companies who will conduct a pre-litigation asset search for a fee. One benefit of this option is these services tend to have resources that let them cast out a wider net, so they may be able to find assets the person has throughout Canada and other countries.
For more ideas about or assistance with conducting a pre-litigation asset check, contact a personal Injury lawyer in your area like Stephens Holman Devraj Barristers & Solicitors.