by Jeff Sovern
Here, in The News-Press. Debt buyers use small claims courts to get judgments to enforce debts even though it is not clear how often those debt buyers can prove the facts pertaining to the debt. Excerpt:
Of more than 1,800 small claims cases filed in Lee County over the first five months of 2017, more than 45 percent involved collection of consumer debt by companies that bought the debt from original lenders, or in some cases, from another debt buyer.
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Nearly all of those who do show up in court appear without an attorney and end up in mediation, lacking knowledge of the system to mount a defense, and lacking the ability to force the debt buyer to show, by the civil trial standard of a preponderance of the evidence, that the debt is real and the amount is correct.
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Trials are presented to defendants as an unappealing alternative to coming to a settlement. In urging settlement, judges tell the litigation-averse debtors to expect to be treated the same as lawyers in the courtroom, with no help from the judge on points of law or on proper procedure. The message is clear that the mediation session is a chance to discuss how the debt will be paid off, rather than an opportunity to demand proof of the amount of the debt.
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In 76 cases involving the four most active debt buying companies in Lee County small claims court during May, settlements were reached in 29 of the cases. All but two of the settlements were for the full amount claimed by the debt buyers and the two that settled were by agreements filed in advance of the pretrial conference.
By contrast, in only seven of the 76 cases reviewed did a debtor opt for a trial at which the amount of the debt would need to be proved. In 27 cases, the debtor did not show up and was found in default without a payment plan.