By Jedidiah McKeehan
If you ever have to sue someone, and the matter proceeds to trial, and you win, you will be awarded a judgment against the person who you sued. For example, if a credit card company sues someone for not paying their bill, they may obtain a judgment against the person for $5,000.00.
When that happens, there is not a safe full of cash sitting in the courthouse where they bring out the amount awarded to the credit card company. Once the judgment is awarded, the credit card company must try to collect the amount they were awarded from the defendant unless the defendant decides to voluntarily pay the judgment.
How does the credit card company collect the amount they were awarded? They may enter into a payment plan with the defendant, they may try to seize vehicles owned by the defendant or garnish their wages.
If the efforts to collect on the judgment fail, then they may simply give up. Usually they record the judgment at the register of deeds in the county where they believe the defendant lives and assume they will never collect the fees they are owed.
Does that judgment follow the defendant forever? Do they simply owe this money until the end of time? No. Under Tennessee Code Annotated section 28-3-110, a judgment against a defendant is only good for 10 years. There are a few very narrow exceptions to this, but that is generally the rule. So, if someone gets a judgment against a defendant, they do nothing to collect that money, and 10 years pass, the defendant no longer owes the money related to the judgment against them. The slate is wiped clean.
The 10-year mark is not an absolute reprieve for the defendant. The person who got the judgment against them (in the example we are using, a credit card company) can ask the court to extend the judgment for an additional 10 years by filing a motion with the court to extend the judgment before the end of the 10 year period (this is usually done some time during year nine of the judgment’s existence).
I do not know what you may feel about defendants getting out of judgments awarded against them after 10 years (assuming the judgment is not renewed), but at least in Tennessee that is the law.
Practically though, if someone has significant assets, it is hard to hide that fact and therefore a person receiving a judgment against such a person will doggedly pursue what they are owed well within 10 years.
If however, a defendant with a judgment against them is destitute or has little to no assets, it may not be worth it to the credit card company to squeeze the few dollars they have out of them. It’s a straight cost/benefit analysis, and after 10 years have passed, this defendant can be unburdened from this judgment hanging over their head.
Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties. He works in many areas, including personal injury, divorce and custody, criminal and landlord-tenant law. Visit attorney-knoxville.com for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.