A recent bench trial in Springfield, Illinois has awarded $1000 in damages to Stephanie Kaylor-Trent, in her lawsuit against an aggressive debt collector. U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough ruled against the Defendant, John C. Bonewicz, P.C., who violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by having his agent call Kaylor-Trent and leave a threatening message, without identifying himself.
This case was settled without a trial by jury on October 30, 2012, and in addition to the statutory damages awarded, Kaylor-Trent also received compensation for costs and attorney fees. Bonewicz’s debt collection agents had previously contacted Kaylor-Trent, but had always identified themselves; the voicemail that instigated litigation was left by a male caller, and reads, “Ms. Trent, you need to contact this office by the end of business day, today, in regards to this matter, the number is 224-534-8030, extension number is 123. I will be here till 07:00 PM.” Kaylor-Trent testified that she felt intimidated and worried after receiving this call, as she didn’t know who it was from.
This was not the first lawsuit brought against Bonewicz; Kaylor-Trent’s attorney submitted copies of seven other lawsuits against Bonewicz, all regarding violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. These suits were filed form 2009-2011, and all involved a communication failure; in each suit, the debt collector did identify himself. In many of the cases, including Kaylor-Trent’s, Bonewicz broke the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act in two ways; the agents did not identify themselves, and they did not say that they were debt collectors. The record of lawsuits against Bonewicz demonstrated that his agents’ non-complaince was not an innocent mistake, but a policy.
Another issue at the trial was Bonewicz’s claim that he could not identify the agent who called Kaylor-Trent; Bonewicz only had two employees, a man and a woman, and the caller’s voice was male. Bonewicz testified that because he didn’t know who had left the voicemail, he didn’t issue either employee a written remprimand. The tone of the call, intimidating and demanding, weighed in favor of Kaylor-Trent receiving statutory damages.
This is an encouraging case for consumer rights; even though only one unidentified call was left on Kaylor-Trent’s phone, the court recognized the caller’s tone, and previous lawsuits on the same issue, in awarding damages. If a collection agency has harassed you, you may be entitled to money damages up to $1,000.00, based on the FDCPA, which has been around for almost 35 years. The FDCPA is a federal law that applies to every state. In other words, everyone is protected by the FDCPA. The FDCPA is essentially a laundry list of what debt collectors can and cannot do while collecting a debt, as well as things debt collectors must do while collecting a debt. Plus, the FDCPA has a fee-shift provision. This means, the collection agency pays your attorney’s fees and costs.