Across Utah, high-interest lenders filed 66% of all small claims cases heard between September 2017 and September 2018, according to a new analysis of court records conducted by a team led by Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and the financial services director at the Consumer Federation of America, and David McNeill, a legal data consultant and CEO of Docket Reminder.
Companies can sue for up to $11,000 in Utah’s small claims courts, which are stripped of certain formalities: There are rarely lawyers, judges are not always legally trained and the rules of evidence don’t apply.
Lenders file thousands of cases every year. When defendants don’t show up — and they often don’t — the lenders win by default. Once a judgment is entered, companies can garnish borrowers’ paychecks and seize their property. If borrowers fail to attend a supplemental hearing to answer questions about their income and assets, companies can ask the court to issue a bench warrant for their arrest.
Arrest warrants were issued in an estimated 3,100 small claims cases during the period studied by Peterson’s team. Almost all of the warrants — 91% — were issued in cases filed by payday, auto title or other high-interest lenders. The number of people who are jailed appears to be small. * * *
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