Emotional Distress & Credit Reporting Damages
Here is a brief overview of obtaining emotional distress damages in Georgia and the 11th Circuit more broadly. If you have a question about credit reporting errors, identity theft, or mixed files, contact my office.
Basics of the Fair Credit Reporting Act:
The credit reporting agencies are required to keep accurate credit files. 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(a)
When a consumer disputes information with a credit reporting agency, the agency must “conduct a reasonable reinvestigation to determine whether the disputed information is inaccurate.” 15 U.S.C. § 1681i(a)(1)(A).
The FCRA requires CRAs and entities that furnish information to CRAs (“furnishers” or “furnishers of information”) to investigate disputed information.
The furnisher of information must: (1) “conduct an investigation with respect to the disputed information”; (2) “review all relevant information provided by the consumer reporting agency” in connection with the dispute; and (3) “report the results of the investigation to the credit reporting agency.” Id. § 1681s-2(b)(1)(A)–(C).
Actual damages for negligent violation of the FCRA include "damages for humiliation, mental distress or injury to reputation and creditworthiness." Smith v. E-Backgroundchecks.com, Inc., 81 F. Supp. 3d 1342, 1364 (N.D. Ga. 2015); Abdo v. Sallie Mae, No. 3:11-CV-111-J-32-JRK, 2014 WL 3053172, at *2 (M.D. Fla. July 7, 2014) (explaining that plaintiff's testimony that he suffered shame, embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress, mental distress, stress, and hurt feelings due to furnisher's violation of the FCRA sufficiently created issue of material fact as to whether plaintiff suffered damages); Jordan v. Equifax Info. Sys., 410 F. Supp. 2d 1349, 1356 (N.D. Ga. 2006) (explaining that actual damages under the FCRA may include damages for humiliation, anger, frustration, embarrassment, or mental distress, even if the consumer has suffered no out of pocket losses);
Many courts have not hesitated to find that mental distress damages were warranted for negligent violations of the FCRA even when the plaintiff has not shown to have obtained medical care or suffered any physical injury. See, e.g., Abdo, 2014 WL 3053172, at *2 (finding that plaintiff raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she suffered damages pursuant to Section 1681o where plaintiff explained that he suffered multiple years of injury to his reputation, shame, embarrassment, stress, humiliation, and hurt feelings); King v. Asset Acceptance, LLC, 452 F. Supp. 2d 1272, 1280-81 (N.D. Ga. 2006) (finding that plaintiff satisfactorily offered sufficient proof of emotional distress damages of embarrassment, frustration, and irritability stemming from negligent violations of the FCRA where he testified regarding the same); Moore v. Equifax Info. Servs. LLC, 333 F. Supp. 2d 1360, 1365 & n.3 (N.D. Ga. 2004) (noting that damages for mental distress are recoverable for negligent violations of the FCRA even if the consumer has suffered no out-of-pocket losses); cf. Levine v. World Fin. Network Nat'l Bank, 437 F.3d 1118, 1124 (11th Cir. 2006) (recognizing that some courts have already concluded that plaintiff may recover for emotional distress in the absence of physical injury or out-of-pocket expenses as actual or compensatory damages for violations of the FCRA); Smith, 81 F. Supp. 3d at 1364 (explaining that the court could not say that plaintiff was not entitled to recover damages for emotional distress even though plaintiff never sought any medical treatment for the harms he suffered as a result of FCRA violations). Quoting from CARLISLE Carlisle v. NATIONAL COMMERCIAL SERVICES, INC., Dist. Court, ND Georgia 2017
Smith v. E-Backgroundchecks.com, 81 F. Supp. 3d 1342 (N.D. Ga. 2015) (plaintiff’s testimony regarding loss of sleep, weight loss, and anxiety sufficient to create jury issue). “[G]eneral compensatory damages, as opposed to special damages, need not be proved with a high degree of specificity and may be inferred from the circumstances.” Bogle v. McClure, 332 F.3d 1347 (11th Cir.2003). Awards of compensatory damages for intangible, emotional harm is deferential to the fact finder because the harm is subjective and evaluating it depends considerably on the demeanor of the witnesses. Id. See also, Muñoz v. Oceanside Resorts, Inc., 223 F.3d 1340, 1348-49 (11th Cir. 2000); Griffin v. City of Opa-Locka, 261 F.3d 1295, 1315 (11th Cir. 2001); Johnson v. Clark, 484 F. Supp.2d 1242, (M.D. Fla.2007) (reducing damages for loss of professional reputation and mental pain and suffering to $500,000.00); Forsberg v. Pefanis, No. 1:07-cv-03116, 2009 WL 4798124, at *8 (N.D.Ga. Dec.8, 2009) (rejecting the contention that there is a limit for damages on emotional distress at $150,000.00 and awarding $1,500,000.00 for emotional damages in a sexual harassment case); Fabe v. Floyd, 199 Ga.App. 322, 330, 405 S.E.2d 265 (1991) (upholding $450,000.00 award even though sole evidence of mental distress was businessman's testimony).
If you or someone you know is fighting Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, or another business regarding their credit report, you should consider contacting my office right now for free 30 minutes consultation. You can complete the contact form on this page or give us a call at 770 - 775 - 0938. Thanks
Joseph McClelland is a husband and trial lawyer. Graduate of Loyola University New Orleans School of Law. He currently practices Fair Credit Reporting Act, Telephone Consumer Act, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act litigation. Earned the designation of Advocate by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy.