NOTE: All the names in the article have been changed to protect the parties’ identities.
Tatiana Diaz came to South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) in full panic mode. A day prior, someone came to her door and handed her a pack of court documents. She was being sued over some money she allegedly owed. Tatiana could not understand anything more than that. Her first thought was to ignore it and hope it goes away. She had heard about SCLS before and now, with nowhere else to turn, she applied for our help in figuring out what was happening.
What was happening was that a debt collection agency filed ten (10) separate lawsuits against Tatiana, trying to collect on debts it claimed she owed. The total amount of debt from all these lawsuits was just over $7,000. Tatiana admitted that she had a credit card that she used and was never able to repay. However, this was years ago, and she did not believe that she owed as much as the agency claimed in the lawsuits.
SCLS accepted Tatiana as a client to try and verify how much she actually owed, and if she did owe a debt, to negotiate a settlement or a payment plan. Tatiana was supporting a family on one income and could not afford to repay the full amount at once. Our first order of business was to file a response to each lawsuit. Failure to respond to a lawsuit can result in losing your chance to dispute the lawsuit. We did not want that.
Once we responded to the lawsuits, the agency would have to show prove that Tatiana owed this debt and how much she owed. Instead, the agency’s attorney reached out to us and offered to dismiss all ten cases based on Tatiana’s low income. The cases were later dismissed, and Tatiana did not have to pay anything.
If you have a debt collection case filed against you, know that you have options. Although an agency will not always be so quick to dismiss, know that an agency must meet certain requirements before the judge allows it to collect from you. First, the creditor has to prove that you owe that debt. Second, the creditor must prove the exact amount that you owe. Finally, the creditor must prove that it has the right to collect on the debt from you. Collection agencies are not always able to prove all these facts and may be willing to dismiss the case or settle for a smaller amount.
Additionally, the creditor may not be able to collect from you if any of the following are true: (1) the debt is too old and the court can no longer enforce it; (2) the debt was a result of mistaken identity or identity theft; (3) the debt has already been paid or discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding; (4) the creditor did not follow proper legal procedure in trying to collect from you. There may be additional defenses available based on your individual situation.
If you have been sued for consumer debt, apply to SCLS to see if you qualify for our legal services. Call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.