Can A Wrongful Death Judgment Be Bankrupted?
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Video Transcript

“0:00 can a judgment obtained as a result of a

0:02 wrongful death be discharged in

0:04 bankruptcy in a wrongful death case it

0:08 depends on the jurisdiction you’re in

0:10 but bankruptcy courts often will

0:13 discharge torts like negligence

0:15 including wrongful death if it was

0:17 simply a negligent wrongful death

0:19 however some states will not allow a

0:23 wrongful death to be discharged if the

0:26 plaintiff can prove that the death was

0:28 caused by an extreme conscious disregard

0:31 for life or extreme recklessness in

0:34 these cases the public and social

0:36 policies say no you cannot discharge

0:40 that because then anybody could go and

0:42 kill someone, and they simply wouldn’t

0:44 have to pay the piper in the end [Music]”

Are you wondering if the at-fault party can bankrupt a personal injury that killed a loved one? Attorney Michael Ehline explains everything you need to know in this helpful video.

Bankruptcy is a legal process in which an individual or business declares inability to pay their debts, and seeks to restructure or eliminate those debts through the supervision of a bankruptcy court.

Generally, You Can’t Discharge Intentional Acts

The general answer is it’s possible, but not always, as intentional acts, if they were, cannot be BK’d. In general, a judgment obtained as a result of a wrongful death claim cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

The General Rule is Wrongful Death Judgments Can’t Be Discharged

It appears that, intentional or not, the majority of courts in the US treat death judgments differently than a car accident judgment with whiplash, for example. This is because wrongful death claims are typically considered to be non-dischargeable debts under the United States Bankruptcy Code. Under bankruptcy law, non-dischargeable debts include certain types of claims such as taxes, student loans, and debts arising from willful or malicious injury to another person. A judgment obtained as a result of a wrongful death claim would likely fall into this category, generally as well, as it represents a debt arising from a wrongful act that resulted in the loss of human life.

What About Unintentional Killings in California?

In general, unintentional wrongful death judgments may be dischargeable in bankruptcy courts in California, but it depends on the case’s specific circumstances.

Under federal bankruptcy law, certain types of debts are non-dischargeable, including debts arising from willful or malicious injury to another person. However, unintentional wrongful death judgments typically do not fall within this category.

California State Laws Affect Bankrupting of Wrongful Death Claims

In California, additional state laws may affect the dischargeability of wrongful death judgments in bankruptcy. For example, California law provides that a wrongful death claim belongs exclusively to the decedent’s heirs and is not part of the decedent’s estate. As a result, a wrongful death judgment may not be considered a debt of the bankruptcy estate and may not be dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Fact Based Test

However, there are exceptions and nuances in California bankruptcy law, and the specific circumstances of each case can affect the outcome. It’s always a good idea to consult with a qualified bankruptcy attorney who is familiar with California law if you have questions about the dischargeability of a wrongful death judgment in bankruptcy.

Complex Issue Requiring Help From a Lawyer

It’s important to note that bankruptcy law can be complex, and there may be exceptions or nuances that could affect the dischargeability of a specific judgment. It’s always a good idea to consult with a qualified bankruptcy attorney if you are considering filing for bankruptcy and have questions about your specific circumstances.

Again whether or not you can escape liability via bankruptcy is largely dependent on the jurisdiction. The bankruptcy code allows the discharge of negligence damages. However, some bankruptcy courts might declare damages resulting from extremely gross negligence or some forms of recklessness non- dis-chargeable.

Did you suffer a wrongful death and get a judgment? Are you unable to collect?

O.J. Example

Remember, O.J. Simpson was found civilly liable for INTENTIONAL wrongful death and acquitted of murder after Judge Ito excluded evidence in his criminal trial that many experts say was a gross error by the court. This left O.J. free as a bird.

O.J. was not able to bankrupt his wrongful death judgment against the Goldmans in the United States Bankruptcy Court. In 1997, Simpson was found liable in a civil suit for the deaths of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, and he was ordered to pay $33.5 million in damages to the victims’ families.

In 2007, Simpson filed for bankruptcy in an attempt to discharge the judgment.

However, the bankruptcy court found that the judgment was non-dischargeable, as it arose from a willful and malicious injury to another person and could not be eliminated through bankruptcy. As a result, Simpson was still responsible for paying the judgment even after filing for bankruptcy.

He moved to Florida and got out of paying the Goldman family the wrongful death judgment against O.J. In Florida, apparently, the state won’t honor an out-of-state judgment.

What About OJ’s Book Apparently Admitting Murder?

In 2006, O.J. Simpson reportedly received an advance of $880,000 for a book titled “If I Did It,” which was purported to be a hypothetical account of how he would have committed the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman had he actually done so.

However, the book was never published due to public outrage and controversy. The rights to the book were eventually awarded to the Goldman family as part of a civil judgment against Simpson. The Goldman family published the book in 2007 under a different title, “If I Did It: Confessions of the Killer,” and all proceeds from the book were used to satisfy the judgment against Simpson.

How To Contact a Wrongful Death Lawyer for More Answers?

So if you face something similar, call Ehline Law Firm for a free case consultation at (213) 596-9642. You can also use our free and easy online contact us form 24/7.

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Michael Ehline

Michael Ehline is an inactive U.S. Marine and world-famous legal historian. Michael helped draft the Cruise Ship Safety Act and has won some of U.S. history’s largest motorcycle accident settlements. Together with his legal team, Michael and the Ehline Law Firm collect damages on behalf of clients. We pride ourselves on being available to answer your most pressing and difficult questions 24/7. We are proud sponsors of the Paul Ehline Memorial Motorcycle Ride and a Service Disabled Veteran Operated Business. (SDVOB.) We are ready to fight.


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