An Oregon woman suing credit score company Equifax over mishandled, mismanaged, and mistake-heavy credit score information walked out of a courtroom $18.6 million dollars richer this week. ABC News reported (via Yahoo News) July 29 that one of Julie Miller’s attorneys believes that she may have received the largest amount of money ever awarded in such a case.
“I’m not aware of a larger one,” Justin Baxter told ABC News.
In fact, given the rather large figure, Julie Miller just might have achieved a net worth of enviable proportion: She may now have enough money to establish her credit score as meaningless.
And it wasn’t as if she didn’t try to get Equifax to fix the mistakes made to her credit score file…
It all started in 2009, Miller said in her original complaint. Having trouble with her getting credit, she asked for a copy of her credit score from Equifax. What she found was a credit report with false identifying information, a wrong birth date, an incorrect Social Security number, and collection accounts in her name.
She began trying to clean up the credit report in 2010. Miller made repeated attempts to get Equifax to change the information on the report and was repeatedly told that the company needed more information to alter her report. More protests filed with the credit score company resulted in Equifax informing her that her report had been mixed with that of another individual. She was told that to fix the problems, she would have to initiate alterations with creditors.
Finally, after eight separate unsuccessful attempts to get Equifax to fix her mistake-laden report, Miller took them to court, filing a lawsuit in 2011.
Some will say that the $18.6 million is a bit exorbitant for someone who got what amounts to a runaround. But Miller’s story wasn’t just the little person against the indifferent monster corporation. Hers was a story that indicated that Equifax’s inattention or inability to rectify her credit score led to unnecessary personal hardship.
In 2010, during her initial back-and-forth with Equifax, Miller was denied credit again. She would be unable to help her disabled brother, a man unable to get credit on his own. She was also unable to aid her husband, who was unable to add a shop to the Miller’s home.
As her attorney noted, “She did what you’re supposed to do. She didn’t go running straight to the courthouse.”
Baxter also believes that the jury was swayed by the abhorrent idea of privacy being violated on two fronts: Having Miller’s personal information as part of someone else’s file while at the same time having someone else’s information as part of her file.
And it didn’t help Equifax’s case, Baxter asserted, that they outsourced Julie Miller’s case to a subcontractor in the Philippines.
Some of the jurors may have even been influenced by the bad publicity the company received in late 2012 when it was announced, as noted by Consumerist, that the Federal Trade Commission had reached a settlement with Equifax over improperly selling the personal information of millions of people, specifically information about late mortgages.
And Julie Miller isn’t alone. The New York Times reported in February that a Federal Trade Commission study indicated that as many as 5 percent of consumers — translating into millions of people — might be affected by credit score reporting errors.
So that $18.6 million award given to her by a jury of her peers may not have been punitive nor thrown out as a cautionary shot across the bow to get the attention of other credit score agencies. After five years of runaround, being outsourced, and having her life upended by an uncaring corporation that could have easily rectified the matter, Julie Miller’s $18.6 million lawsuit award might have been a simple act of justice.