Written by attorney Michael Stephen Agruss

Who Pays My Attorney’s Fees and Costs in a Debt Collection Harassment Case?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) as been around for almost 35 years. The FDCPA is a federal law that applies to every state. In other words, everyone is protected by the FDCPA. The FDCPA is essentially a laundry list of what debt collects can and cannot do while collecting a debt, as well as things debt collectors must do while collecting a debt.

Most consumers harassed by debt collectors probably think it’s impractical to hire a lawyer to fight a collection agency. If a consumer cannot afford to pay their bills, then how would a consumer have money to hire a lawyer to fight a collection agency. However, consumers harassed by debt collectors do not have to pay attorney’s fees and costs. The collection agency pays your attorney’s fees and costs. A debt collector who fails to comply with any provision of the FDCPA is liable for any actual damages sustained, punitive damages, and statutory damages up to $1,000.00. The FDCPA has a fee-shift provision. This means, the collection agency pays your attorney’s fees and costs.

Federal Courts have long recognized the importance of the fee-shift provision of the FDCPA, as well as the public policies behind it. Awarding attorney’s fees and costs in debt collection harassment cases is mandatory. “The FDCPA was enacted to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors, to insure those debt collectors who refrain from using abusive debt collection practices are not competitively disadvantaged, and to promote consistent State action to protect consumers against debt collection abuses. Congress found such abuses by debt collectors to be serious and widespread." Foti v. NCO Financial Systems, Inc., 424 F.Supp.2d 643, 653 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) citing 15 U.S.C. § 1692(e) and Russell v. Equifax A.R.S., 74 F.3d 30, 33 (2d Cir.1996).

Accordingly, “[T]he purpose of the statutory fee award is to benefit the plaintiff by allowing the plaintiff to obtain counsel in order to pursue redress for relatively small claims." Majcher v. Laurel Motors, Inc., 287 Ill.App.3d 719, 680 N.E.2d 416 (Ill. Ct. App. 1997); See also Ford Motor Co. v. Mayes, 575 S.W.2d 480, 488 (Ky. Ct. App. 1978). The purpose of the fee-shift provision under the FDCPA is not only to allow, but also to encourage, consumers to vindicate their rights without having to worry about the need to pay for their attorney’s fees and costs. The attorney’s-fees provision is in place to remove the difficulty of obtaining counsel in pursuing claims which are relatively small compared to the potential legal costs. Therefore, even if you are having trouble paying your bills, if a collection agency violates the law, then the collection agency pays your attorney’s fees and costs.

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