Bankruptcy Court: Willful and Malicious Injury Will Limit a Debtor’s ‘Fresh Start’

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One of the primary purposes of the US Bankruptcy Code is to provide a “fresh start” for debtors: an opportunity for those debtors to free themselves from heavy debt and start afresh. At the same time, the Bankruptcy Code contains provisions which expressly exclude certain debts from the discharge normally granted to the debtor who avails himself of bankruptcy proceedings. Among the debts that will survive a debtor’s bankruptcy are those that result from “willful and malicious injury” that a debtor may have caused. The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts recently considered — and was forced to balance — these potentially competing policies in In re McGinnCase No. 19-11794, AP No. 19-01090 (Bankr. D. Mass., February 28, 2022).

Factual background

On the afternoon of December 3, 1994, Gregory Eno fell from a sidewalk along Main Street in Bourne, Massachusetts onto the pavement and past an idling car driven by Nancy McGinn. For unknown reasons, McGinn drove the vehicle forward, knocking Eno over with all four tires of his vehicle. She then stopped the car, put it into reverse, and ran over Eno again with all four tires. At that point, McGinn got out of her car, presumably to examine what (or who) she had hit. After stopping to watch, according to eyewitness testimony, McGinn got back into her car and “ripped off and left” the scene of the crash, unfortunately hitting Eno a third time. As a result of these impacts, Eno suffered a collapsed lung, six broken ribs, two punctured lungs, a ruptured disc, and pressure on his spinal cord.

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