So I am probably a day late and a dollar short with this story, but here goes. From Consumerist, here is the opening: "A jury in Missouri recently awarded $251,000 in damages to a local woman who was wrongfully sued by a debt collector — more than 222 times the amount she’d been sued over — but that’s nothing compared to the additional $82.99 million in punitive damages assessed against the collection company."
Okay, so this looks like a great story. A big bad debt collector ends up with a judgment against them for $83 million. WOO HOO! Let's celebrate. But, let's take a step back first before we all end up with a debt collector judgment party hangover.
First, the judgment is likely to be overturned on appeal. It looks nice. It looks like a lot of fun. But the judgment is half of the debt collector's value. And, the judgment for punitive damages is 326 times the damages award. That is nice, but in reality the Supreme Court says that punitive damages are supposed to be in the single multiple range. In other words, the most they should be is 9 times $251,000 or about $2.2 million. So that knocks this judgment down by some $80 million.
Second, the judgment is not just for debt collection violations. In this case, the debt collector, Portfolio Recovery Associates, or PRA, acted in bad faith, abused the discovery process and generally didn't follow the court's rules. That generally falls on the attorney and not on the debt collector.
The biggest takeaway from this: it generally is not your case. If you are being harassed by a debt collector, you can, and should, assert your rights. You should probably hire an attorney. But, you should not expect the court to award you 222 times the amount you are sued for or 300 times the judgment in punitive damages.