Unlike Bush’s raiding of our treasury and the piling on of debt that is the hallmark of his administration, regular citizens aren’t able to just print up more money to pay for what they want and buy. Instead, we’ve become trained to borrow and use anything we can as collateral. Thanks to the Republicans who have controlled Congress, once we’ve gotten sucked into the mindset that when life gets tough, we should just spend money,we’re forced into a debtors nightmare that doesn’t end.
When the answer to 9/11 was that we should all go shopping, it is no wonder that more and more Americans find themselves in debt. When we haven’t seen an increase in the minimum wage in over a decade, have more jobs being off-shored, workers benefits being obliterated, the cost of health insurance and health care out-of-control, and the cost of everything from gas to food going through the ceiling, it’s not at all surprising that we’re digging deeper and deeper into our pockets just to survive.
Enter the financial industries and the debt-collector. This administration has seen to it that the balance of power rests with the creditor—everywhere from the bankruptcy court where debt cannot be discharged in many cases to the debt-collector being able to harass and abuse those who have the misfortune of being in their sights.
Their arrogance is only exceeded by their obnoxious behavior. It is only getting worse, so the story of attorney Bob Brennan of La Crescenta becomes one of those far-too-rare but important victories that illustrate the need for tenacious and committed plaintiff’s attorneys to be on the forefront of protecting you and me—the consumers of this state and nation.
It is important to highlight these victories because the so-called “tort reform” movement wants to eliminate the ability of average citizens to sue these wrong-doers. These misnamed “reformers” use the most extreme examples to support their spurious complaint that the courts are tied up with “frivolous” lawsuits. Check out this case and see if you think this woman’s lawsuit was unwarranted. And remember, the goal of the “tort reformers”, led by the Bushies and our Governator, is to deny “John and Jane Q Citizen” the ability to stop these bullies from trodding on their rights. If you close the courthouse to the average person, there is no recourse left. Check out this story:
Following a three-day civil jury trial, a Los Angeles jury unanimously ordered debt collector Arrow Financial Services to pay Laura Nelson a total sum of $100,000.00 for false credit reporting and unfair debt collection practices. The jury awarded Ms. Nelson $85,000.00 for her emotional distress and mental anguish, and also added a $15,000.00 penalty against Arrow for its repeated violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Laura Nelson v. Arrow Financial Services, LLC, United States District Court Case No. CV06-1568 RGK (PLAx).
The so called delinquent account reported to Ms. Nelson’s credit reports was false from the start, as Ms. Nelson never owed the alleged debt. The false reporting of the account began in 2001 and Ms. Nelson had previously disputed the account numerous times to Arrow, to the three major credit bureaus and also to Direct Merchants, the supposed original creditor on the account. Direct Merchants even wrote to Arrow to advise them not to report the account.
Ms. Nelson previously sued Arrow in 2003 over the account, and part of the settlement of that case included a permanent removal from her credit reports. However, literally as she was signing the settlement agreement from the previous lawsuit, Arrow began re-reporting the account to Equifax, one of the “big three” credit bureaus, using a different account number. When Ms. Nelson later disputed the account’s re-appearance to Equifax, Equifax could not locate the account because it had been re-reported with a different account number. Ms. Nelson then brought the lawsuit.
According to her attorney, Bob Brennan, “Arrow subjected Ms. Nelson to five years of false credit reporting, and insisted until the very end that it had done nothing wrong. What was most upsetting was the fact that Arrow had kept the account in its system, adding interest to it and continuing to credit-report it, all the while knowing it was a completely fraudulent account.” The ultimate goal of this litigation, besides making Ms. Nelson whole, according to this consumer advocate, is for Arrow to re-evaluate some of its business practices in the wake of this verdict.
Mr. Brennan also expressed his dismay at the way in which the debt collectors and large creditors are becoming what Brennan calls ” the new slave masters in our culture.” He goes on to observe that ” America no longer creates any new products. All it creates anymore is debt. The key product of our economy is debt, plain and simple, and the debt collectors and major banks use debt to control, and destroy, our entire lives. I’m picking up more and more discontent from consumers because of this debt-driven economy and how we’re all hamsters in hamster-wheels working our tails off just to pay interest to debt collectors and big banks. One day, it’s all gonna break and it just might be a good thing when it does.”
Of course, the big corporations don’t want people like Mr. Brennan and his firm out there fighting against these practices—they cost the bad guys money. But without attorneys who are willing to take these cases, advance alot of the costs and be willing to get no payment if they don’t win, the harassing and often illegal behavior of the well-heeled bullies will go unchallenged.
Next time you hear the big banks or other financial institutions bemoaning all those “frivolous lawsuits”, think of people like Mr. Brennan and others and consider what will happen if their ability to sue on behalf of the Laura Nelson’s of the world is taken away. I can already hear the phone ringing at 3 am with the voice on the other end of the line saying, ” When are you going to pay your non-existent debt? ” Of course, it won’t be 3am from the country they’ll be calling from……but that’s a different discussion.
Note: Robert Brennan is a partner in the La Crescenta, California firm of Brennan, Wiener & Associates. He has been selected as a “Southern California Super Lawyer” for two years running, for both 2006 and 2007