The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects debtors from harassment by debt collectors. If a colletor has violated the FDCPA, you can sue the collector in court. The FDCPA provides a range of damages for successful FDCPA lawsuits,k including monetary damages, attorneys fees, and more. Read on to learn what types of damages you can get in a FDCPA lawsuit.
(To learn more about the FDCPA,visit our Illegal Debt Collection area.)
Damages and Remedies Available in FDCPA Lawsuits
The FDCPA is violated when debt collectors take certain actions. (To learn what constitutes a violation of the FDCPA and what collectors are covered by the Act, see Nolo's article Illegal Debt Collection Practices.)
If a debt collector violates the FDCPA and you sue the collector in court, you may be able to recover the following types of damages:
These types of money damages may be available:
Damages for Physical Distress
Some debtors suffer actual physical damage from the barrage of debt collection calls and letters, including stress-related heart problems, migraine headaches, skin rashes, and so forth. Any health concerns should be first addressed with a qualified doctor, and then the debtor should contact a FDCPA attorney to document all such health concerns. If the health problems can be linked to the FDCPA violations, the debtor may be able to recover the costs of treatment and other damages against the debt collector.
Damages for Emotional Distress
Relentless telephone calls and collection letters cause real stress and can affect the debtor’s emotional well-being. The debtor’s marriage and other relationships may suffer. Also, the calls to debtor’s coworkers and family members can be an incredible invasion of privacy. All of these occurrences should be documented and discussed with an FDCPA attorney. The offending debt collector may be held liable for this distress and the debtor may be able to recover against the debt collector.
Lost Wages Recovered
Debtors may face problems at work because debt collectors call and disrupt the debtor’s productivity, as well as the productivity of debtor’s co-workers. When debtor collectors violate the FDCPA through calls to the debtor’s employer, the debtor may be able to recover lost wages.
Wage Garnishment Recovery
If a paycheck has been garnished by a debt collector that has violated the FDCPA, it may be possible for the debtor to recover these funds. (Learn more about wage garnishment.)
Statutory Damages of $1,000
Above and beyond what the consumer may collect for losses related to lost wages, psychological distress, and the like, the FDCPA allows the consumer to recover damages up to $1,000 from the creditor. Since the FDCPA says that the consumer can recover “up to $1,000,” the amount awarded could be less. The court can award these damages if the consumer proves the collector violated the FDCPA, but the consumer does not have to prove that the violation caused any harm. This $1,000 is per lawsuit, not per violation, so if the creditor violates the FDCPA once or multiple times, the consumer still only collects up to $1,000.
Attorney Costs and Fees Recovered
In cases where the debtor successfully proves that a FDCPA violation occurred, the court may allow recovery of attorneys fees and costs. This recovery is especially important because without this reimbursement, debtors may not be able to afford to bring FDCPA actions against unscrupulous debt collectors.
In addition to awarding the debtor monetary damages, a court can also order the debt collector to cease certain activities -- this is called injunctive relief. For example, the court can require that:
The Debt Collector Stops Calling
The FDCPA can be used to stop calls to the debtor’s home, work, family, friends, neighbors, and other associates. When debtors receive dozens of calls each day from relentless debt collectors, the end of those calls may be the greatest relief of all.
The Debt Collector Stops Sending Letters
Letters from debt collectors can be nearly as aggravating as telephone calls. Enforcement of the FDCPA against overly aggressive debt collectors can stop the daily flood of collection letters.
Third Parties May Also Sue
Family members of the debtor, the receptionist at debtor’s work, debtor’s neighbors, and other persons who have been burdened by the debt collector’s phone calls and letters may also sue the debt collector under the FDCPA. As with any FDCPA claim, these persons will need to prove that the FDCPA was violated and that they suffered damages from that violation.
If the actions of the debt collector violate the FDCPA, and the debtor has suffered damages as a result of these actions, suing the debt collector under the FDCPA may give the debtor some real relief. Not only could it stop the harassing phone calls, a FDCPA claim may also allow the debtor to recover for physical, emotional, and monetary damages suffered.
(To learn more about dealing with debt collectors, see our Debt Collection & Collectors area.)