All bankruptcy debtors will tell their bankruptcy attorneys about cases in which they are defendants. Debtors are always anxious to stop a lawsuit and rid themselves of any dischargeable obligations.
The problem with lawsuits usually arises when the debtor is the plaintiff, or has a claim that has not yet been filed. For instance, suffering a personal injury caused by someone else and then filing bankruptcy to get rid of the medical bills.
Both a plaintiff’s lawsuit and a potential lawsuit are assets of the bankruptcy estate.
What happens to the plaintiff’s claim during bankruptcy can depend on a number of circumstances.
In some cases the bankruptcy attorney can exempt a portion or even all of the money received from winning or settling the lawsuit. In other cases the bankruptcy trustee may consider the lawsuit or potential lawsuit of little potential value to the bankruptcy estate (and your creditors), and may abandon the estate’s interest in the suit or claim.
The Bankruptcy Code requires the debtor to disclose all pending lawsuits and claims, whether as a plaintiff or a defendant. Failing to disclose a claim can cause serious headaches for both the bankruptcy attorney and the plaintiff attorney. Whether the failure to list the claim was intentional or an unintentional error, omitting a pending or potential lawsuit is the same as representing to the bankruptcy court that the debtor does not own the asset or have the right to sue. One appellate court said, that “a debtor in bankruptcy who denies owning an asset, including a chose in action or other legal claim, cannot realize on that concealed asset after the bankruptcy ends.” The legal term for this situation is “judicial estoppel,” and it can terminate your right to sue.
If you have a pending or potential lawsuit, discuss your situation with your bankruptcy attorney. Your attorney can advise you on your legal options for discharging your debts and keeping your lawsuit proceeds. Pending lawsuits is actually common, and an experienced bankruptcy attorney can guide you through the legal maze without terminating your rights.