Damages for FDCPA Violations

If a bill collector violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you might be able to sue and recover money and other damages.

By , Attorney · University of Minnesota Law School

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects debtors from debt collector harassment. If a collector has violated the FDCPA, you can sue that collector in court. You might be able to recover damages, including monetary damages, attorneys' fees, and more. (15 U.S. Code § 1692k).

What Are the Monetary Remedies Under the FDCPA?

These types of money damages might be available if you file a lawsuit against a debt collector for violating the FDCPA. (Many states have their own fair debt collection laws, which also allow you to sue for damages.)

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 an attorney to document all such health concerns.

If the health problems can be linked to the FDCPA violations, the debtor might 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 a debtor's emotional well-being. The debtor's marriage and other relationships might suffer. Also, calls to a debtor's coworkers and family members can be an incredible invasion of privacy.

All of these occurrences should be documented and discussed with an attorney. The offending debt collector might be held liable for this distress and the debtor might be able to recover against the debt collector.

Lost Wages Recovered

Debtors might face problems at work because debt collectors call and disrupt the debtor's productivity, as well as the productivity of the debtor's coworkers. When debtor collectors violate the FDCPA through calls to the debtor's employer, the debtor might 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 might be possible for the debtor to recover these funds.

Statutory Damages of $1,000

Above and beyond what the consumer might collect for losses related to lost wages, psychological distress, and the like, the FDCPA allows a consumer to recover damages up to $1,000 from the collector. Because 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.

Attorneys' Fees and Costs

In cases where the debtor successfully proves that an FDCPA violation occurred, the court may allow recovery of attorneys' fees and costs. This recovery is especially important because, without this reimbursement, debtors might not be able to afford to bring FDCPA actions against unscrupulous debt collectors.

Injunctive Remedies Under the FDCPA

In addition to awarding a 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 Must Stop 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 might be the greatest relief of all.

The Debt Collector Must Stop 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 Under the FDCPA

Family members of the debtor, the receptionist at a debtor's work, a debtor's neighbors, and other persons who have been burdened by a 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.

Getting Help With Filing an FDCPA Lawsuit

If the actions of a debt collector violate the FDCPA, and the debtor has suffered damages as a result of these actions, suing the debt collector under the FDCPA might give the debtor some real relief. Not only could it stop the harassing phone calls, but an FDCPA claim might also allow the debtor to recover for physical, emotional, and monetary damages suffered.

If you think a debt collector has violated the FDCPA when trying to collect a debt from you, consider talking to an attorney who can analyze your individual situation and advise you about your rights and options under the law.

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