Civil Liability Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

By: Jamie L. Harris, Esq.

Liability for debt collectors under the FDCPA can include actual damages, statutory damages, court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees. Class action and individual liability is also provided for under the Act. Under § 813(a)(1) of the FDCPA, there is not a limit on the amount a consumer can be awarded in actual damages. Under § 813(a)(2)(A) of the FDCPA, a debt collector cannot be liable for statutory damages that exceed $1,000. A consumer is only entitled to court costs and reasonable attorney’s fees if they prevail under FDCPA § 813(a)(3). Under 813(a)(2)(B) of the FDCPA, consumers can bring a class action lawsuit against a debt collector.  In determining the amount of liability, courts consider relevant factors including the frequency and persistence of noncompliance by the debt collector, the nature of such noncompliance, and the extent to which such noncompliance was intentional. In class action suits, courts consider the frequency and persistence of noncompliance by the debt collector, the nature of such noncompliance, the resources of the debt collector, the number of persons adversely affected, and the extent to which the debt collector’s noncompliance was intentional.

There are defenses available to debt collectors under the FDCPA.  A debt collector may not be held liable in any action if the debt collector shows by a preponderance of evidence 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. It is also a defense if a debt collector, in good faith, relied on an advisory opinion of the Federal Trade Commission, even if the ruling is later amended, rescinded, or determined to be invalid for any reason. There is a one year statute of limitations.

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