“David and Goliath Smack down”

An Oregon woman who sued Equifax, the credit bureau, has won an $18.6 million jury award for credit-report errors that went unfixed for years.  But the award could be significantly reduced upon appeal.  Jurors found that Julie Miller’s credit, reputation, and financial stability were damaged by Equifax’s failure to correct mistakes in her credit report, despite her repeated complaints to the company, The Associated Press reports.  The award included punitive damages which accounted for roughly 99 percent of Ms. Miller’s multimillion-dollar award.

Ms. Miller attempted to contact Equifax for two years to rectify the mistakes on her credit report, but when her efforts proved futile. She was left with no other recourse but to take Equifax to court.

Ms. Miller had been denied credit by multiple banks because of an Equifax credit report that contained erroneous information about her “Social Security number, birth date, and collection accounts,” report United Press International.  Ms. Miller attempted to contact Equifax for two years to rectify the mistakes on her credit report, but when her efforts proved futile.  She was left with no other recourse but to take Equifax to court.

AlthoughEquifax not every American is likely to sue a credit bureau, Ms. Miller is not alone in her struggle. A recent FindLaw survey found that nearly a quarter of Americans have seen problems on their credit reports.

The jury awarded Ms. Miller about $18.6 million from Equifax: $180,000 to compensate her financial and reputational losses and $18.4 million in punitive damages.  Common sense says that Equifax is likely to appeal the punitive damages award as excessive.  We can only wait to see.

Definitions: Compensatory damages attempt to make a victim whole again from their losses due to a defendant’s actions.  Punitive damages are imposed to punish a defendant, like Equifax, who acted maliciously or with wanton recklessness in causing injuries to the plaintiff.

What can you do to avoid credit problems?  First, obtain a free annual credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, which links you to all three major credit bureaus, including Equifax.  Second, review each report.  Third, investigate any issues that you find.  Fourth, file a dispute on each item that you are certain is not correct.  But, understand that the disputes go out of the country for review, if any.  You may need to file dispute after dispute.  If you do not get the response after many months of trying, then go down the path that Ms. Miller used – sue the credit reporting agencies.

Also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission – www.FTC.gov. and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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