A federal judge assessed $1.62 million in punitive damages against the Equifax credit bureau for merging a woman’s credit file with someone else with a bad record, and then ignoring her complaints for two years until she finally sued.
US District Judge Anna Brown in Oregon actually reduced a jury’s punitive damage award from $18.4 million, but preserved the $180,000 compensatory damage award – so the total recovery is $1.8 million. The jury awarded the original amount in July 2013 because the credit agency stonewalled the consumer, Julie Miller of Marion County.
[sws_yellow_box box_size="550" box_align="right"]Get legal news for consumers delivered into
your email inbox by subscribing with the form on the right side of the screen. [/sws_yellow_box] “Equifax engaged in reprehensible conduct that caused real harm to Miller,” the judge wrote. “Equifax should be punished financially for that wrongful conduct. The amount of the punitive-damages award…should be enough to deter Equifax…from repeating this type of conduct in the future.”
In reality, Equifax has $1 billion in annual revenue and the damage award is a fraction of one percent of that. The case is Miller v. Equifax Information Services, LLC, Case. No. 3:11-CV-01231-BR.
Equifax merged Miller’s credit file with a different person who had the same name and a similar Social Security number, but who lived in a different state and who had a bad credit record, unlike Miller’s credit record.
Evidence at trial showed the Equifax had other mixed-file cases where juries found that the company violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Frighteningly the court said that two million to four million Americans have inaccurate information in their credit reports because of mixed files.
Miller repeatedly wrote, telephoned and faxed Equifax over two years, but it never investigated the information, never made a correction and never gave miller the entire contents of her credit file. Equifax gave out the damaging incorrect information to businesses that did not have a legitimate purpose to get her credit report.
“For two years she was frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, depressed, humiliated, fearful about misuse of her identity, and concerned for her damaged reputation,” the judge wrote. Equifax’s own representative testified at the trial that it was company policy to investigate and correct files only after a lawsuit is filed.
Miller spent more than $250,000 in legal fees to pursue her case, which was reported in the New York Times. In the end, the judge said punitive damages could be no more than 9 times the amount of compensatory damages, citing a 2011 Alabama federal case.
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