Can a Personal Injury Settlement Be Garnished in Massachusetts?

People file personal injury lawsuits for many different reasons. In addition to seeking justice, plaintiffs often file these actions in order to obtain the financial help they desperately need to pay for treatment of the injuries the defendant caused. Whether a plaintiff is awarded damages at trial or agrees to a settlement, that payout likely represents years of hard work and fighting for what they are owed, so it can be very distressing if a plaintiff is worried that part of that settlement or damages award is going to be ripped away from them by creditors.

In Massachusetts, your personal injury settlements cannot be garnished under most circumstances. However, if a settlement payout gets mixed in with regular funds, there is no way to prevent garnishment of those funds as they are not distinguishable from the rest of your assets.

For a free case evaluation, contact the Law Office of John J. Sheehan at (617) 925-6407 and speak to our Massachusetts personal injury attorneys today.

What Can and Cannot Be Garnished in Massachusetts?

Garnishment in Massachusetts is covered under Mass: Mass. Gen. Laws Ch.246 § 28. Under that law, up to 15% of your wages and assets can be garnished to pay off debts. A garnishment is a court order that allows creditors to directly dip into your income and take part of it to pay off your debts to them. Usually, this happens by having your employer take income out of your paycheck before you get it.

However, other assets you own can be garnished as well, including, in some circumstances, settlement awards. For example, garnishments to pay child support can be drawn from more sources than what may be generally allowed, and this includes settlement awards. The same goes for divorce proceedings and alimony. That being said, there are things you can do with the help of our attorneys to ensure that you get to keep settlement awards from personal injury lawsuits.

How To Protect Personal Injury Settlements from Garnishment in Massachusetts

If you are concerned that part of a personal injury settlement is going to be garnished, there are things you can do to help prevent that from happening. Most of these options involve ensuring that the funds you get from a settlement “don’t touch” your regular assets. Depending on your situation, some of these options will be more beneficial to you than others, so you should talk to our Boston personal injury attorneys to see which is the best fit for you.

Keep Assets Separate

The most important thing to do when protecting settlement awards from garnishment is to separate them from your other assets. When you are under the effects of a garnishment, creditors can sometimes take funds from your account by contacting a relevant bank. If, for example, you place funds from a settlement in the same account as your income from your job, there is no way for the creditors or the bank to tell where that money came from, so the law treats it as fair game for creditors to take. Instead, you should set up a separate account specifically for your settlement awards, which our attorneys can assist you with.


A trust is a legal agreement where one party, the grantor, places assets into a trust run by a trustee for the benefit of a third party, the beneficiary. Trusts can be set up for lots of different reasons, but one of the main ones is to protect assets. In what is known as an “irrevocable” trust, the assets inside that trust are treated as if you do not own them. Therefore, if your settlement awards are placed in an irrevocable trust, they cannot become the target of creditors because those assets technically aren’t owned by you.

Remember, though, to be mindful of the type of trust you set up, as some trust structures still treat it as if you own the assets in trust. An attorney can help you figure out the best trust for your situation and set it up correctly.

Settlement Structure

Another way to help guard against your settlement getting garnished is to structure it so that it is paid to you over time. So, instead of getting a lump sum from the defendant you would get paid your settlement in installments. Of course, you first need to ensure that getting your settlement paid to you piecemeal will not put you under financial stress. However, if that is the case, our Fitchburg, MA personal injury lawyers can negotiate with opposing counsel to get a settlement offer that is best for your situation and avoids potential garnishment.


If all else fails, declaring bankruptcy can stop creditors from dipping into settlements you were awarded in a lawsuit. Bankruptcy works by immediately halting all efforts to collect debt against you, and the court puts together a plan to pay your debts on a schedule that both ensures you are not under extreme financial stress and ensures that creditors get paid. Once bankruptcy has finished, you come out with a clean slate and no debts, including wage garnishments.

However, it is important to keep in mind that filing for bankruptcy is a serious decision that should not be made lightly. Even if your settlement is safe, the other assets that you also don’t want to lose may not be depending on what chapter of bankruptcy you file under, so it is always a good idea to consult with an attorney before making this decision.

Get Help from Our Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorneys Now

The Law Office of John J. Sheehan’s Everett, MA personal injury attorneys at the number (617) 925-6407 and get a free assessment of your claim.