ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis woman is suing a debt collection agency, claiming its alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) caused her emotional distress.
Sadija Osmanovic filed the lawsuit against Dyck-O’Neal Inc. and Does 1-4 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.
Such lawsuits are relatively infrequent, although it's not because of a lack of FDCPA violations by collectors, according to St. Louis attorney Scott Brinkman.
“I can’t speak for all, but I think that most attorneys, when they do a lot of work, they’re hoping for a much bigger payday,” Brinkman told the St. Louis Record. “In an FDCPA claim, the client does not have to pay the attorney anything. If there’s a violation, the collection agency has to pay the attorney’s fee, but it winds up only being maybe a few thousand that the attorney receives.”
Osmanovic alleges that the collection agency violated the FDCPA by using unfair, abusive and deceptive collection practices and that these actions caused her to experience shame, fear, anger, frustration, embarrassment, anxiety and humiliation. She claims that the collectors failed to inform her that they were attempting to collect interest on the debt, thus increasing the amount they were asking her to pay. Osmanovic is arguing that the company did not make clear the principal amount of the debt and tried to collect an amount different than that on the loan agreement.
It seems that Osmanovic’s allegations should be relatively easy to argue in court, Brinkman said.
“The FDCPA is a fairly lengthy piece of legislation, but it basically lists out all of the things that would be a violation,” he said. “In this particular case, where the collection agency is collecting on a debt, they may have done everything else correct but they are assessing a rate of interest that either is unlawful or they’re hiding it… That’s a violation of the FDCPA. So if you have these letters that show the balance keep going up, that’s pretty solid evidence.”
Brinkman also commented on Osmanovic’s allegations of emotional distress.
“One of the elements in order to prove an FDCPA case is that you have to show actual damages. Actual damages can obviously be in the form of ‘Your conduct caused me to lose money, to not be able to go to work,’ these kinds of things,” he said. “I think what attorneys are trying to do is allege a lot of different things as an actual damage situation. So for instance, someone is being constantly harassed by a collection agency … Most of the time that’s not the only debt the person has; they might have five or six other collection agencies coming after them as well. The stress level is through the roof … Not only are they stressed out, they’re usually pretty darn depressed. So I think attorneys are trying to shed some light on that.”
However, Brinkman said that it’s important to keep in mind that the FDCPA violation and emotional distress are not separately addressed.
“It’s not as if the attorney is saying, first of all, there’s been an FDCPA collection violation, and number two, we’re also suing for emotional distress," he said. "There’s just the FDCPA case, and then in order to prove up actual damages he’s saying that in addition to that loss of money or whatever, this person has suffered some distress over this.”
Osmanovic is seeking statutory damages of $1,000, the maximum allowed under the FDCPA, in addition to actual damages, interest, costs and attorneys’ fees.
Mary Resch, director of client relations and information management at Dyck-O'Neal, declined to comment, citing a company policy against commenting on pending litigation.