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Kansas City Woman Awarded $83 Million In Debt Collection Case

One of the largest debt buyers in the United States has been ordered to pay nearly $83 million in punitive damages to a Kansas City woman whom it had sued over a $1,000 credit card debt.

Portfolio Recovery Associates LLC says it mistakenly pursued Maria Guadalupe Meija (51) in an attempt to collect a debt that was owed by a different person with a similar-sounding name. The debt collector persisted, however, even after Meija repeatedly notified callers of their error.

Still, Portfolio Recovery proceeded to sue Meija over the roughly $1,000 debt, continuing to litigate for more than 15 months, with Meija defending herself throughout and trying to get the case dropped. Meija’s attorney filed counterclaims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), along with claims for malicious prosecution.

After a five day trial, a jury found Portfolio Recovery Associates liable for actual damages of $250,000 under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and awarded punitive damages of $82,990,000 for malicious prosecution.

Meija recounts her experience dealing with Portfolio Recovery Associates:

“My husband came to my place of employment and handed me the lawsuit Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC had served him with at our home… I did not owe this company any money… I was very shocked that they sued me for one year and three months even though I never had the credit card. And after they dismissed the case, they said they might sue me again.”

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act entitles consumers such as Meija to payment of attorney’s fees and costs from Portfolio Recovery on top of the other amounts awarded. Indications are that PRA will request a new trial or a substantial reduction of damages, while Meija is relieved and grateful that she and her family can put this undeserved hardship behind them.

“I am so thankful to the jury for giving me and my family justice. This should not happen to anyone and I hope the jury’s verdict will stop Portfolio from doing this to others. I am grateful that my name is totally cleared and my family and I can move on,” says Meija.

Meija’s circumstances are not uncommon. Debt buyers such as PRA acquire thousands of debts from creditors at a steep discount, as little as pennies on the dollar, rarely sold with any documentation to prove that the debt is valid. Innocent third persons with similar-sounding names or addresses can be identified as the debtor when collection efforts begin, as occurred here. Sometimes, like here, the debt buyer sues to obtain payment, doing so in the face of knowledge that they have contacted the wrong person.

If you are receiving or have received calls from a collector for a debt you don’t believe you owe, don’t wait to take action. Bring your case to the attention of a qualified consumer lawyer. Not only is representation under the FDCPA 100% cost-free to you; an attorney can help you understand and defend your rights under State and Federal Law.

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