Do You Need Actual Damages to File a Lawsuit for a Violation under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA)


On November 28, 2011, the United States Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding this very issue.  The FDCPA allows for recovery of any actual damages, statutory damages sustained and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs by an individual resulting from a debt collectors violations and in a case involving an individual, any additional damages as the court may allow, not exceeding $1,000.

The issue being heard by the Supreme Court involves whether an individual has the right or standing to file a lawsuit if actual damages are not pleaded or proved.   The FDCPA is a federal law and to sue someone for a violation of the FDCPA they must have standing.  To prove you have standing you must show that there is a connection between what an alleged wrongdoer did and yourself, and you were harmed as a result.  If there is no standing then the complaint will be dismissed.  The argument being advocated to the United States Supreme Court is that many plaintiffs do not have standing to lawsuits under the FDCPA because they do not and cannot prove there was an actual injury to them for the violation of the FDCPA.

The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act outlines many different types of violations.  For example, if the debt collector calls you 50 times a day over and over again harassing you and causing you unwarranted stress and aggravation, this is a violation of the FDCPA.  What are the actual damages though?  Did you get fired from your job because of it and therefore are seeking lost wages?  Or what if the debt collector called your mother and told her they were going to throw you in jail if you did not pay the debt back to them?  This is a violation also, but again, what are the actual damages?  Most courts allow the recovery of statutory damages without having to prove there were actual damages.

It will be interesting to see how the United States Supreme Court chooses to rule on this issue.  The whole point in passing the FDCPA is to protect consumers from the unfair and deceptive tactics used by collection agencies to obtain payment for debts.  A violation of the law is a violation and therefore that should be damage enough.  If consumers are not allowed to file lawsuits for the mere violation of the FDCPA no matter how insignificant, then why have the law at all?  The FDCPA would become a meaningless set of guidelines to be followed while debt collectors know they can do whatever they want without consequence.  For the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to protect consumers and operate as it was intended, any technical violation of the law has to be an injury to that person giving them the right to file a lawsuit.

If you are struggling with debt or have been abused by a debt collection agency, please contact us to meet with our experienced bankruptcy lawyers and Bay Area bankruptcy attorneys to schedule a free consultation.