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An Oregon woman who sued Equifax, the credit bureau, has won an $18.6 million jury award for credit-report errors that went unfixed for years. But the award could be significantly reduced upon appeal.
Jurors found that Julie Miller's credit, reputation, and financial stability were damaged by Equifax's failure to correct mistakes in her credit report, despite her repeated complaints to the company, The Associated Press reports.
The award included punitive damages which accounted for roughly 99 percent of Miller's multimillion-dollar award.
Credit Report Mistakes
Miller had been denied credit by multiple banks because of an Equifax credit report that contained erroneous information about her "Social Security number, birth date, and collection accounts," report United Press International.
Miller attempted to contact Equifax for two years to rectify the mistakes on her credit report, like all savvy consumers should. But when her efforts proved futile, she took Equifax to court.
Although not every American is likely to sue a credit bureau, Miller is not alone in her struggle. A recent FindLaw survey found that nearly a quarter of Americans have seen problems on their credit reports.
Jury Award Excessive?
With the jury verdict on Monday, Miller was awarded about $18.6 million from Equifax: $180,000 to compensate her financial and reputational losses and $18.4 million in punitive damages, reports The Associated Press.
Compensatory damages attempt to make a victim whole again from their losses due to a defendant's actions, but punitive damages are imposed to punish a defendant, like Equifax, who acted maliciously or with wanton recklessness in causing injuries to the plaintiff.
Equifax is likely to appeal the punitive damages award as excessive, as the amount ($18.4 million) is arguably wildly out of proportion from Equifax's conduct in ignoring Miller's complaints.
In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down punitive damage awards which were more than 100 times larger than the compensatory damages, which is the case in Miller's judgment against Equifax.
Be Aware of Your Credit
Although Miller took steps to be aware of damages to her credit, 22 percent of Americans have never even checked their credit report, the FindLaw survey found.
To avoid falling into that percentage, you can obtain a free annual credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, which links you to all three major credit bureaus, including Equifax.