The West Virginia state legislature advanced a compromise bill yesterday that will maintain some consumer protections while also removing a provision that would have required consumers to pay attorney fees if they lose disputes.
The bill, SB 563, now moves to the state Senate for approval.
Originally, the bill would have required individuals to pay attorney fees if they lost disputes, and would have significantly reduced the fines that companies would have had to pay when accused of violating consumer protection statutes.
Speaking about the original bill, state Sen. Mike Romano, a Democrat, said:
“It would have really ended consumer protection in West Virginia for all intents and purposes. It would have been almost impossible for a consumer to take the risk of challenging any violation of consumer protection laws. Things as minute as disputing a charge on your credit card could have resulted in the consumer paying the attorneys fees for the banks and credit card companies that were after them for whatever reason.”
Under the original version of the bill, companies that violated any consumer protection statute would be subject to a fine of up to $50,000. The compromise version of the bill raised that amount to $175,000. The compromise bill also includes the following prohibited actions:
- The seeking or obtaining of any written statement or acknowledgment in any form that specifies that a consumer’s obligation is one incurred for necessaries of life where the original obligation was not in fact incurred for such necessaries
- The seeking or obtaining of any written statement or acknowledgment in any form containing an affirmation of any obligation by a consumer who has been declared bankrupt except where such affirmation is obtained pursuant to applicable bankruptcy law
- The collection or the attempt to collect from the consumer all or any part of the debt collector’s fee or charge for services rendered: Provided, That attorney’s fees, court costs and other reasonable collection costs and charges necessary for the collection of any amount due upon delinquent educational loans made by any institution of higher education within this state may be recovered when the terms of the obligation so provide. Recovery of attorney’s fees and collection costs may not exceed thirty-three and one-third percent of the amount due and owing to any such institution: Provided, however, That nothing contained in this subsection shall be construed to limit or prohibit any institution of higher education from paying additional attorney fees and collection costs as long as such additional attorney fees and collection costs do not exceed an amount equal to five percent of the amount of the debt actually recovered and such additional attorney fees and collection costs are deducted or paid from the amount of the debt recovered for the institution or paid from other funds available to the institution
- The collection of or the attempt to collect any interest or other charge, fee or expense incidental to the principal obligation unless such interest or incidental fee, charge or expense is expressly authorized by the agreement creating or modifying the obligation and by statute or regulation
- Any communication with a consumer made more than three business days after the debt collector receives written notice, from the consumer or his or her attorney that the consumer is represented by an attorney specifically with regard to the subject debt. To be effective under this subsection, such notice must clearly state the attorney’s name, address and telephone number and be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the debt collector’s registered agent, identified by the debt collector at the office of the West Virginia Secretary of State or, if not registered with the West Virginia Secretary of State, then to the debt collector’s principal place of business. Communication with a consumer is not prohibited under this subsection if the attorney fails to answer correspondence, return phone calls or discuss the obligation in question, or if the attorney consents to direct communication with the consumer. Regular account statements provided to the consumer and notices required to be provided to the consumer pursuant to applicable law shall not constitute prohibited communications under this section; and
- When the debt is beyond the statute of limitations for filing a legal action for collection, failing to provide the following disclosure informing the consumer in all written communication with such consumer that:
- When collecting on a debt that is not past the date for obsolescence provided for in Section 605(a) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U. S. C. 1681c: “The law limits how long you can be sued on a debt. Because of the age of your debt, (INSERT OWNER NAME) cannot sue you for it. If you do not pay the debt, (INSERT OWNER NAME) may report or continue to report it to the credit reporting agencies as unpaid”; and
- When collecting on debt that is past the date for obsolescence provided for in Section 605(a) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U. S. C. 1681c: “The law limits how long you can be sued on a debt. Because of the age of your debt, (INSERT OWNER NAME) cannot sue you for it and (INSERT OWNER NAME) cannot report it to any credit reporting agencies.”