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Jury Awards $83 Million for Malicious Prosecution of Wrong Person's Debt

How much could you recover if a debt collector pursues you for someone else’s debt? For one woman in Missouri, the answer is $83 million.

Several years ago, Portfolio Recovery Associates, one of the country’s largest debt buyers, began pursuing Maria Guadalupe Mejia from Kansas City, Missouri for failing to pay a $1,130 credit card bill. Mejia insisted that she did not have a credit card account with the company and consistently told Portfolio Recovery that they had the wrong person.

In actuality, the debt belonged to a man who lived in Kansas City, Kansas. Mejia eventually hired a legal aid attorney who spent months attempting to convince Portfolio Recovery that it was pursuing the wrong person for this debt. Even though Portfolio Recovery lacked any evidence against Mejia, the company filed a lawsuit against her anyway.

In response, Mejia filed a counterclaim alleging that Portfolio Recovery Associates violated the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) and had engaged in malicious prosecution. A judge agreed with Mejia and found that Portfolio Recovery had “acted in bad faith, abused the discovery process and repeatedly violated this court’s discovery orders.”

A jury used that ruling to punish Portfolio Recovery Associates. They awarded Mejia $252,000 in compensation for the company’s FDCPA violations, and $82.9 million in damages for the malicious prosecution. The large judgment is especially damaging for Portfolio Recovery, because the figure represents approximately half of the company’s yearly net income.

It is not uncommon for debt buyers and debt collection companies to pursue the wrong person for someone else’s debt. The FDCPA anticipates this, and gives consumers specific remedies to address the problem. If a consumer disputes the debt and tells the creditor that he or she does not owe it and does not wish to be contacted again, then the creditor cannot contact that person except in certain specific circumstances. If the creditor or debt collector violates these rules, then the company may be liable for thousands of dollars in damages.

If you have been harassed by a debt buyer or debt collector, you may be able to file a claim under the FDCPA. To learn more about your rights and legal options, schedule a free consultation at Loan Lawyers today by calling (888) FIGHT-13 (344-4813).