Have you ever forgotten to pay your cable bill? What about your credit card bill or car loan? I think many consumers would emphatically answer “yes” to these questions. Life happens- maybe you lost your job or went on vacation and forgot to pay the bill. Or, maybe you received a new debit card and failed to update the electronic, automatic payment. In any event, this oversight happens to many consumers. Once you miss a payment, inevitably, the creditor will begin their collection efforts. In a previous blog, I discussed what to do if they start calling your cell phone. However, in some circumstances, the creditor will visit your home in an attempt to collect the past due debt.
There are potential illegal issues that arise once a creditor visits your home. In many cases I have pursued, creditors have left door hangars either on a consumer’s front door, or on their gate out front. In a recent case, a creditor left a door hangar, which stated “police will be getting involved”. This is a blatant violation of multiple subsections of Florida Statute, Section 559.72. For instance, creditors are prohibited from simulating in any manner legal or judicial process. See Fla. Stat. §559.72 (10). In another recent case, my client’s cable and internet provider left a hangar on my client’s fence. As a result, the neighbors of my client saw that he was past due on a debt, which caused my client great embarrassment. This is a violation of Florida Statute, Section 559.72(5), which states that a creditor cannot disclose information regarding a consumer’s debt to third parties.
If you are victim of one of the scenarios above, you may be asking yourself- what remedies do I have? Unfortunately, many of my clients have never even heard of Florida’s consumer statute- the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”). Under the FCCPA, consumers are entitled to up to $1,000 in statutory damages, any actual damages, attorney’s fees, and costs. That’s right- the creditor is responsible for your damages and your attorney’s fees.
What To Do
If you are a victim of one of the scenarios above you need to contact a consumer protection attorney immediately. I have litigated many of these “door hangar” cases successfully and would be more than happy to consult with you at no-cost. If you think you have a case, call me at 727-344-0123, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what has happened.
Have you ever been excited to buy a new car or go on a shopping spree with the new credit card you just received in the mail? Of course you have- that was a rhetorical question. What is not exciting is when some unforeseen circumstance causes you financial hardship. Maybe you lost your job or had a serious medical injury. Either way, you are strapped for cash and can no longer pay for that new car or the credit card bill due at the end of the month. Inevitably, once you miss your first payment, you can bet the collection calls will begin. If you read one of my previous blogs, you will know exactly what to do and what to tell these creditors (basically, stop calling) when they call. However, more times than not, these creditors will continue to call because most consumers are unaware of protective collection statutes that exist in the state of Florida. That is a topic for another time though. The real issue is this- you have told these creditors to stop calling, and thus, most likely have a cause of action against them. Here is where it gets tricky. Almost every creditor contract (car loan, credit card, etc.) has what is called an arbitration clause. What is an arbitration clause and how does it affect my rights?
An arbitration clause is a clause in a contract that in short says, “you the consumer agree to not sue the creditor in state or federal court for any issue that arises as a result of the instant contract.” Instead, you the consumer agree to file a demand for arbitration. That doesn’t seem too bad, right? Wrong! Arbitration clauses are pro-corporation/big business. Many of the arbitrators who hear these cases come from a defense attorney (creditor attorney) background and are not pro-consumer. The converse of this is that in state and federal court, juries tend to be pro-consumer and anti-big corporation/creditor. This is typically where you see your big verdicts against corporations because juries are common folk who like to stick it to these large companies. Thus, you can see the importance of being able to litigate your case in state and federal court versus in arbitration.
What can I do to avoid Arbitration?
Most arbitration clauses are bulletproof. It is very difficult to successfully challenge them in court. With that said, there are a couple ways to avoid arbitration and to litigate your case in state or federal court. The first way is to opt out of the arbitration clause once you sign a contract with a creditor. Normally, you have thirty (30) days from the time you sign the contract to opt out of arbitration. This is very impractical though because most consumers do not foresee suing the creditor they just entered into a contract with. The second way is to file your case in small claims court. Almost all arbitration clauses contain a small claims exception, which allows consumers to proceed in small claims court. The catch with this is that if your case is worth more than $5,000, you cannot file in small claims court because it exceeds the jurisdictional limit.
What To Do
If you think you have a case against a creditor, you should contact a consumer protection attorney. For what it is worth, many consumer protection attorneys in the St. Petersburg, Florida area have not arbitrated a case through a final hearing- I have. Thus, I have the necessary experience to push your case to the very end and maximize the value of your case. If you think you have a case, call me at 727-344-0123, or e-mail me at email@example.com and tell me what has happened.