4th Circuit OKs $200K|Award for Credit Problems

      (CN) – The 4th Circuit affirmed a $200,000 award to a woman whose credit rating was impaired after her identity was stolen. She was plagued by bad credit reports because of errors made by Equifax Information Service.




     After discovering that a thief had stolen her identity, Nichole M. Robinson asked Equifax to correct the errors in her credit report. But several years later Robinson continued to have problems because Equifax did not correct the errors.
     She sued Equifax, and a Virginia district court found that Equifax had violated the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. It awarded Robinson $200,000 in actual damages and $268,652 in attorney’s fees.
     Equifax challenged the award.
     Robinson restored her credit history after the identify theft. By 2001, her credit report was free of fraudulent accounts. However, for several years after these events, Robinson continued to experience credit problems resulting from Equifax’s mishandling of her credit file.
     “Equifax mistakenly placed Robinson’s address and Social Security number on three credit files established by the identity thief, each of which contained derogatory credit accounts,” according to the ruling. As a result, Equifax sent various creditors Robinson’s actual credit file along with one of the identity thief’s files.
     Robinson experienced difficulties obtaining any type of consumer credit from 2003 until 2006.
     On appeal, Equifax argued that “there was not a legally sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to have found that Equifax’s conduct resulted in Robinson’s damages.”
     The 4th Circuit concluded that Robinson offered sufficient evidence that she suffered emotional distress as a result of Equifax’s errors. Robinson lost opportunity in the home mortgage market, emotional distress resulting in hair loss, sleeplessness and loss of income from missing approximately 300 hours of work to address Equifax’s mistakes.
     “Equifax now attempts to parse the award of actual damages into economic and emotional distress damages, asserting that Robinson’s “emotional distress award” should be reduced to no more than $100,000,” the court wrote.
     It upheld the award of $200,000, stating, “We are convinced that the jury’s award is not excessive in light of the evidence presented at trial.”
     Equifax also challenged the $268,652 award of attorney’s fees and costs. The appeals court sided with Equifax and overturned and remanded the district court’s decision in part because the appellate record did not contain specific evidence for the proper calculation of fees.

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