Garnishing Personal Injury Settlements in Maryland

The Maryland Daily Record reports that a personal injury settlement is not subject to garnishment for child support, according to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion in Rosemann vs. Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder and Adkins, LLC.

This action stems from an effort by a father to get child support from the child’s mother (which is not exactly the norm). The mother was injured in when a flight attendant dropped a suitcase on her arm during a flight. Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins settled the accident claim for $30,000, and the father sought to garnish the settlement, which is how the law firm got involved in the case in the first place (a case I’m sure they regret taking in hindsight).

Trial Court Ruling

The Circuit Court for Howard County ruled that the settlement money was exempt from garnishment as it was compensation for a personal injury, and therefore protected by § 11-504(b)(2) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article of Maryland law. This statute outlines that certain property is exempt from execution on a judgment. The Court of Special Appeals subsequently affirmed this decision.

Writing for the unanimous Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Judge Alexander Wright Jr. opined that personal injury accident settlements are an asset “protecting personal dignity“ not subject to attachment. Judge Wright wrote that a “person is not a chattel subject to attachment in satisfaction of a debt, and so, too, a lawsuit seeking to recompense him for damage to his person is likewise protected from attachment.”

I cannot find the court’s opinion online, so I do not know the details of the court’s reasoning beyond this article. I appreciate the sentiment in this ruling, preserving the notion that financial compensation in personal injury cases for the harm the plaintiff has suffered is not just another asset. Still, debtor prisons have been around since the days of Pip and Miss Havisham, yet we seem to make a notable exception for people that do not pay their child support. I think child support should trump an “asset protecting personal dignity” because you really can’t have personal dignity if you are not willing to take care of your own children.

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