The Law of Contracts rarely provides for the “punishment” of a person who does not keep his or her promise in a legally enforceable agreement. Contracts are about business. Therefore, the law is more concerned with economics than fairness, although fairness is not to be disregarded. The law is actually designed so that a party is free to determine whether keeping or breaking a promise makes better business sense without fearing punishment.
Even so, people often break contracts whether it makes economic sense or not. Moreover, the non-breaching party often must sue to get paid. Because contract law is not aimed at punishment, the law will allow you to try to get into the same economic position you would have been in had the other party kept their promise(s). For example, if a builder agrees to build your house for $150,000 but quits $100,000 into the job, your damages are everything you might have to pay above $50,000 to have the house completed by someone else.
However, there is one form of “punishment” in a contract-based lawsuit. The normal rule in the U.S. is that each party to a lawsuit pays their own costs and attorney fees. However, contract cases in Oklahoma involve a “fee-shifting” statute. In short, the loser has to pay the winner’s costs and attorney fees. Consequently, it is possible for a $1,000.00 legal dispute to rack up $5,000.00 in attorney fees that the loser will have to pay in addition to their own legal fees. Thus, there are substantial risks in suing on a contract. Our firm can help you assess your risks.
In some cases, the court might award something other than money damages. For example, in real estate sales, it is possible the Court will order one party to convey land to another party pursuant to a contract for sale. Cases involving such orders are uncommon and vastly outnumbered by money damages cases.
Many people are surprised to learn that there is no automated system for making a judgment debtor pay their judgment amount. That’s why contract enforcement does not mean much without its twin, judgment enforcement.
Not all money damages judgments stem from contracts. Money judgments also come from personal injury cases, property damage cases, intellectual property infringement, and countless other matters. Regardless of the type of underlying legal issue, if you have a judgment against a person or business that can be found in Oklahoma, we can enforce that judgment if the judgment debtor can be located and if the judgment debtor has non-exempt assets.
Judgment enforcement usually involves repeating the same three steps over and over until the creditor gets paid. First, we use both formal and informal means to investigate the debtor’s location, employer, financial institutions and assets.
Second, we evaluate the information to determine if the timing is right to negotiate a deal or use legal means to take the debtor’s property or money to satisfy the judgment amount. Sometimes, a judgment creditor might accept a boat or other item of value to settle the matter. Certain assets of individual persons are exempt from forced seizure and sale and there are limitations on garnishment amounts. Generally, nothing a business owns is exempt from forced sale or garnishment to satisfy a judgment.
Third and finally, we do one of three things. The first option is to wait because the debtor can’t be found or has no job or assets of interest. Often, the debtor surfaces later with a criminal charge or through other information sources that take time to update with the debtors’ most recent information. The second option, if we can find the debtor, is to negotiate a settlement according to our client’s terms. If the debtor is willing to pay a lump sum and our client is willing to discount the total amount owed, the debtor might pay voluntarily to get closure. Under the third option, assuming we have found the debtor with assets but could not negotiate a voluntary settlement, we start formal proceedings to garnish funds or seize and sell property through the Sheriff’s office to get our client paid.