Monday, July 29, 2013
For two years an Oregon woman tried without success to get mistakes in her Equifax credit report fixed. Now a jury has awarded her $18.6 million for her trouble.
Justin Baxter, one of the attorneys representing Julie Miller of Marion County, Ore., tells ABC he believes the judgment is unprecedented in its size. "I'm not aware of a larger one," he says.
Miller's troubles began in 2009, according to her complaint, when she was denied credit from Huybbard Bank based on her Equifax credit report. She requested and eventually received a copy of her report, which, she discovered, contained false identifying information, an incorrect Social Security number, a false birthday and false, derogatory collection accounts attributed to her.
She began disputing these inaccuracies starting in 2010. She repeatedly contacted the company and was repeatedly told Equifax needed further information before it could process her dispute.
Later in 2010 Miller was denied credit by Key Bank, based on her Equifax report.
After filing further protests with Equifax about the inaccuracies in her report, Equifax representatives told Miller her data had become "mixed" with another person's. They told her she would need to dispute the false information directly to her creditors.
In all, Miller tried eight times to get her report corrected. Finally, she brought suit in Oregon Federal District Court in October 2011.
Baxter says Miller's failure to qualify for credit cost her several ways. She wasn't able to help her brother, who is disabled and who wasn't able to get credit on his own. She was unable to help her husband, who needed a shop added onto the Miller's home.
Asked what parts of Miller's ordeal carried the most weight with the jury, Baxter tells ABC News: "She did what you're supposed to do. She didn't go running straight to the courthouse." Instead, he says, she tried and tried again to get Equifax to fix its mistakes.
Baxter thinks privacy issues also had a bearing on the jury's decision: The mixing of Miller's credit data with another person's meant that at the same time Miller was being sent the other person's un-redacted personal information, her own unredacted personal information, including her social security number, were being sent to others.
Equifax did not respond to a request from ABC News for comment.
Baxter says he discovered that Equifax wasn't even handling Miller's complaint in-house. "We found that when complaints would come in, they'd run them through a scanner and then send them overseas." Miller's complaint, he says, was sent for processing to a subcontractor in the Philippines.