The typical civil lawsuit works this way: (1) the plaintiff sues the defendant; (2) if the case doesn’t settle and the plaintiff wins at trial, the plaintiff obtains a judgment; (3) if the defendant doesn’t pay the judgment voluntarily, the plaintiff must then chase the defendant to get the money.
The recent New York Daily News article regarding Bengals cornerback Adam Jones’ lingering legal morass creates the impression that the case against Jones is following that basic linear path. Jones was sued by Tommy Urbanski after the notorious “make it rain” incident from early 2007 that left Urbanski paralyzed, Urbanski secured a $13.4 million judgment against Jones, and Urbanski has now filed paperwork in Ohio to seize a portion of Jones’ football salary to satisfy part of the debt.
From Jones’ perspective, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Jones’ agent, Peter Schaffer, explains that the judgment against Jones isn’t even final yet, with legal issues pending on appeal in Nevada. One of the biggest questions, according to Schaffer, is whether Nevada law recognizes a claim for “negligent infliction of emotional distress” without an underlying assault or battery.
In English, this means that there’s a question as to whether Jones legally can be responsible to Urbanski when Jones didn’t shoot Urbanski or otherwise have any physical contact with him. That issue, Schaffer explained, needs to be resolved by the Nevada Supreme Court.
The broader question is whether Jones can be held fully responsible for the $13.4 million judgment when multiple other defendants (including the shooter) also have been found liable to Urbanski. This gets into notions of “joint and several liability,” an area of the law that typically arises when, for example, one defendant who was primarily responsible for someone’s injuries has little or no money to pay a judgment and another defendant with limited culpability but greater financial resources is asked to pay the entire judgment.
The problem for Jones is that, in this case, he’s got the closest thing to a “deep pocket.” Though Jones will never be able to fork over the full amount (absent a Powerball jackpot or his own eight-figure lawsuit), Urbanski can try to get at Jones’ assets in order to partially satisfy the debt. Urbanski is doing that by attempting to obtain a piece of Jones’ paycheck from the Bengals.
In Ohio, however, the maximum wage garnishment is 25 percent for all creditors. With Urbanski getting in line behind other creditors (including the IRS) and with the judgment against Jones, according to Schaffer, not finalized, Urbanski likely will continue to wait for compensation from the shooting.
Of course, if Jones weren’t at least partially liable, Urbanski would be left with claims against various defendants who are what lawyers call “judgment proof.” In this case, the fact that one of the responsible parties plays in the NFL gives Urbanski a path for obtaining partial satisfaction of the judgment.
Schaffer also said that he has been trying to work out a settlement with Urbanski’s lawyers, given that the case is unresolved and that Jones most likely will never be able to pay the full amount. In an apparent effort to put pressure on Jones, Urbanski’s lawyers have leaked portions of emails containing settlement negotiations to the media. That could make it harder as a practical matter to strike a deal, since it creates issues of mistrust between the lawyers.
Absent a settlement, it appears that the situation still has a long way to go before it will be resolved.