It’s Not My Bill, Woman Sues Debt Collector Wins $83 Million

A Missouri woman won $83 million in a lawsuit against a debt collector who tried to sue her for a credit card bill that wasn’t hers.

Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC, acted maliciously when it tried to squeeze $1,000 from Maria Guadalupe Mejia when the debt actually belonged to a man in another state with a similar sounding name, a jury found.

Portfolio Recovery, one of the biggest debt buyers in the country, continued the lawsuit against Maria even after discovering it was suing the wrong person, according to KCUR.

Gina Chiala, one of Mejia lawyers, told KCUR the company refused to hand over information about the case to the defendant as required by law, and the judge got fed up and ruled against them.

“This company has gained a reputation for take no prisoners, ‘If you mess with us we’re going to take you all the way, you’re going to have to spend a lot of money on this litigation, you’re going to have to go all the way to trial.’ And so, among consumer lawyers, they are known to be very aggressive in litigation and to not stop; even when they’re wrong, they’re just not going to stop.”

After the judge ruled against the debt collection agency, a jury fined them $250,000 for violating the Fair Debt and Collection Practices Act, and $82,990,000 in punitive damages.

A company spokesman called the decision “outlandish” and said it “defied all common sense.” The debt collector said it plans to file motions to overturn the verdict because it could damage the company financially.

Last year, the debt collectors made more than $176 million from buying uncollected debt from banks and recovering it from debtors.

During the process, personal information, like account notes and credit card applications, are often lost, which makes it easy to sue the wrong person.

The debt collectors began their suit against Maria in 2013, even though the debt belonged to a man in Kansas with a similar but different name, according to Time.

Maria tried to get the lawsuit dismissed with the help of Legal Aid, but failed, which is when Slough, Connealy, Irwin & Madden stepped in and countersued the debt collector. After the debt collector found out it was suing the wrong person, they still kept the lawsuit going for another 15 months, trying to wear them down. That’s when the judge stepped in and ended the trial with a guilty verdict for the debt collector.

It’s not the first time the little guy has beaten a big corporation trying to wring money from them. Last year, a Florida couple won $1 million in a lawsuit against Bank of America over excessive and harassing phone calls, according to the Inquisitr.

If you’re ever contacted by a debt collector, experts agree the first step is to verify the debt in writing.

[Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images]