Debt Collection Attorneys Liable Under Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for Mistakes of Law


The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 et seq. (the “Act”) imposes civil liability on debt collectors for certain prohibited debt collection practices. A debt collector who fails to comply with any provision of the Act will be liable for actual damages, costs, reasonable attorneys’ fees and certain statutory damages set forth in the Act. However, if a debt collector shows that “the violation was not intentional and resulted from a bona fide error notwithstanding the maintenance of procedures reasonably adapted to avoid any such error” then he will not be held liable in any action brought under the Act. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(c). The “bona fide error” defense is an absolute defense.

In Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie, Rini, Kramer & Ulrich LPA, 130 S. Ct. 1605 (08-1200, April 21, 2010), a law firm filed a complaint in state court on behalf of its client, a lending company, seeking foreclosure of a mortgage held by the client in real property owned by Karen Jerman (“Borrower”). The complaint included a “notice” that stated that the mortgage debt would be assumed to be valid unless Jerman disputed it in writing. Section 1692g(a) of the Act requires a debt collector, within five days of its initial communication with a consumer, to send a written notice to the consumer containing, among other things, a statement that unless a consumer within thirty days of receiving notice disputes the validity of the debt, the debt will be assumed valid. The Act does not state whether the dispute must be submitted to the debt collector in writing. The Borrower’s attorney sent a letter disputing the debt and sought verification of the debt. The lending company subsequently acknowledged that the debt had been paid in full and the law firm withdrew the lawsuit. The Borrower then filed her lawsuit seeking damages under the Act, alleging that the law firm violated Section 1692g...

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