Anatomy of an FDCPA Case
The acronym "FDCPA" stands for the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It's a federal law that governs how debt collectors deal with consumers. As a consumer lawyer, I sue debt collectors under the FDCPA. This post will give a little insight into how an FDCPA lawsuit happens. And for giggles, I'll write it in the narrative form.
Part 1: How We Got to Where We Are
In the beginning, all was well. Our hero, Jacob, had a good job teaching third graders in a small but well funded school district. Jacob was living a pretty good life. He was happy and had money to spare, and so he did. He used his credit cards to pay for a few small trips with every intention of paying them back. His credit score was over 800! All was well.
Then tragedy struck. While driving home from work, a car ran a stop sign and collided with the side of Jacob's vehicle. Jacob's head hit the inside of the car window and he was knocked unconscious. He woke up to find EMT's and firefighters tending to the accident. They put him in the ambulance and off to the hospital he went.
Part 2: The Aftermath
Good news! Jacob survived his ordeal and is doing much better. But there's an ominous cloud forming. Jacob was out of work for over three months after his accident. He tried to go back after a month, but he suffered from severe post-concussion syndrome. The noise and activity of the classroom was too much, and he had to go back on sick leave. He was long since out of sick time and had no income coming in. He called a personal injury lawyer and has a good case, but it will be months or years before he sees a dime from his case. Meanwhile, his credit cards have come due and he's staring at bills for thousands of dollars of medical care. He had insurance, but it wasn't that good. He's in a deep debt hole and he's not sure how he's going to get out.
It's six months later. Jacob's personal injury case is going along well but he is still trying to get himself out from under the mountain of debt the accident caused. His credit card debt is paid but most of his hospital bills have been sold to collection agencies. He's getting depressed and is worried he will never get out of debt.
Part 3: Things Change
One day Jacob gets a call at work. It's someone he doesn't know. The person he doesn't know claims in a voicemail message that he is going to be served at work with a "writ of bodily attachment" that day unless he makes a payment. He panics, takes the rest of the day off, and goes home. The stress is unbearable. Later that night, he searches the internet for help with debt and finds an article about the FDCPA. Unbeknownst to Jacob, there are rules governing the debt collection industry.
Jacob, emboldened by his new knowledge of the FDCPA, reaches out to a local consumer rights lawyer named Hank and describes the voicemail message he received. Hank shakes his head in bemused anger and tells Jacob that yes, he does have a case. Jacob signs the retainer agreement and Hank gets to work.
Part 4: Hank's Story
Hank is not new to FDCPA cases or consumer law. He's seen Jacob's story before. He knows he can help him. Step one is to find those scumbag debt collectors. Hank has already recorded a copy of the voicemail, so he searches for the number they left to call back. He gets a hit for a debt collection outfit operating out of a small, unmarked strip mall in Gary, Indiana. He digs a little deeper and finds everything he needs to file a lawsuit. Hank starts to write the papers.
A few weeks pass. In the interim, Hank has filed a case in federal court and has served papers on the debt collector. The owner of the debt collection company calls and offers to settle the case for a few hundred dollars. Hank tells the debt collector to pound sand. In Hank's opinion, the case is worth more than that. So they litigate it.
Hank stands in Court after arguing a motion for summary judgment. The Court rules in Hank's (and Jacob's) favor and orders the debt collector to pay Jacob $1,000 in statutory damages, $5,000 in actual damages from the stress caused, and all of Hank's attorney's fees. The debt collector skulks away in defeat.
Jacob and Hank sit down in Hank's office. Hank hands over a check to Jacob for $6,000 and the two begin to discuss how to go about dealing with Jacob's debt. Knowing that he has help, Jacob feels a lot better. Instead of being depressed, he is relieved. He knows Hank will help him put this all behind him. And he's right.
Jacob gets off the plane. About six months ago, he met a nice young lady and they've been inseparable ever since. Very much in love, they decided to take a trip to Disney World. Little does this lady know, Jacob has a ring in his suitcase and is planning to propose. The trip and the ring? Paid for in cash. Jacob is debt free.
Hank is in his office. He gets a brief email from Jacob with a picture of the ring and a thank you. He smiles. And then gets back to work. These debt collectors aren't going to sue themselves.
*This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between real life and the above is purely coincidental, although unsurprising.