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Damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act include economic damages as well as damages for humiliation and mental distress

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Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235 (4th Cir. 2009)

Ms. Robinson had her identity stolen and the thief opened up fraudulent accounts in her name and under Ms. Robinson’s social security number.  Shortly after discovering that she had been a victim, Ms. Robinson filed a police report, called the Federal Trade Commission hotline and opened a case, and spent the next five months trying to correct the mistakes on her credit report.

Equifax mistakenly placed Robinson’s address and social security number on three credit files established by the identify thief, each of which contained derogatory credit accounts. Consequently, Equifax sent various creditors requesting Ms. Robinson’s credit report her actual credit file along with one of the identity thief’s files.

Because of these errors, Mrs. Robinson’s credit problems persisted and she had difficulties obtaining any type of credit for three years.  During this time period, each time Equifax attempted to correct these mistakes, the company made matters worse by placing Robinson’s information on another one of the identity thief’s files.

As a result, Mrs. Robinson was not able to obtain a home loan over the course of a few year being told that she was not eligible for a loan until the problems with her credit report were fixed.

Mrs. Robinson spent hundreds of hours out of work trying to correct Equifax’s mistakes.  The stress of these problems weighed on Robinson and the physical and emotional toll she experienced was apparent to others.  During this period she experienced headaches, sleeplessness, acne, stomach aches, and hair loss.

The District Court awarded Ms. Robinson $200,000.00 in damages.  Equifax appealed arguing that there was not a sufficient basis for a jury to award Robinson damages for Equifax’s conduct claiming that the evidence Robinson offered was pure speculation and conjuncture.

15 U.S.C. 1681(b) requires that credit reporting agencies maintain “reasonable procedures to meeting the needs of commerce for consumer credit, personal, insurance, and other information in a manner which is fair and equitable to the consumer, with regard to confidentiality, accuracy, relevancy, and proper utilization of such information . . “

Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, citing its prior holding in Sloane, stated that “although specifically recognizing that a plaintiff’s testimony can provide sufficient evidence to support an emotional distress award, we have required a plaintiff to reasonably and sufficiently explain the circumstances of the injury and not resort to mere conclusory statements.” The Court then determined that, in this case, “it is clear that Robinson sufficiently articulated and demonstrated emotional distress she experienced as she attempted to correct Equifax’s errors.”

The Court, in upholding the jury’s award, noted that “of course, Equifax bore no responsibility for the initial theft, but the FCRA makes the company responsible for taking reasonable steps to correct the consumer’s credit report once she brought the theft to the company’s attention; and this Equifax utterly failed to do.”

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