Soldier Wins Mortgage Servicing Case: The Rest of Us Win Too

04 Apr Soldier Wins Mortgage Servicing Case: The Rest of Us Win Too

Last week a Columbus, Georgia jury awarded more than $21 million to a soldier in a mortgage servicing dispute. Sergeant Brash bought his home in 2007, and always paid his mortgage through an automatic bank draft. Despite the bank drafts, after about 18 months he began receiving notices that his payments were delinquent. He tried to resolve those issues. He spent hours on the phone with the mortgage servicing company’s India call center. He was told that adjustments would be made to his account. Sometimes the account was adjusted, but nevertheless he continued to receive letters, statements, and threats, saying he was delinquent. Ultimately, he was reported as delinquent to credit bureaus.

Sound familiar? It happens all the time. I wish I had a nickel for…well, you know. It is what drives me crazy about the casual way the mortgage and banking industry deals with complaints, and regulations, and court rules. Can’t locate a document? Make one up. Don’t have time to review the actual transactions in your actual file? Hire somebody to sign an affidavit saying you did anyway. The only difference in this case is that Sergeant Brash, unsurprisingly, fought back. He hired a lawyer, and sued the mortgage servicer, and he won. Twenty million of the $21 million award was punitive damages. In other words, the jury wanted to send a message.

I’m not privy to all that went on in the case. I know, however, that no case comes to trial without waiting a long time. And you don’t have a six-day trial without having amassed a huge volume of evidence. Those six days in front of the jury represent weeks, months, and even years of preparation, research, and combing through records. And you know what? The mortgage servicer could not explain what went wrong with the account. Never explained it. Now, a spokesman for the servicer said that although they respect the law, they don’t think the facts justified the $21 million award. They argued that the sergeant didn’t fill out the paperwork correctly. Maybe they have a reason (other than not wanting to pony up $21 million in cash) for saying that. But for what it’s worth, here’s my opinion. If you can’t explain what happened to an account in the course of a six-day trial, I think most people are going to be a little bit skeptical. Not to say angry.

Most people faced with the kind of problems Sergeant Brash dealt with don’t handle it as well. They don’t have the patience to remain on hold for as long as 55 minutes at a time. They don’t continue to try, time and again, to communicate to no apparent purpose. And after being told time and again that they are delinquent, some of them give up, and stop making the payments, thus becoming delinquent in the real world, as well as in mortgage-servicer-alternate-universe world. And some stop making payments because they are told that they must be behind in order to qualify for a modification. Most people don’t hire an attorney and fight it out over months or years of litigation, including a six-day trial. But one man did, and hopefully sent a message to the mortgage servicing industry. And if they get that message, even a little bit, we all win. Thanks, Sarge, for this one. As well as the rest of your service to the rest of us.

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Däna (pronounced "Donna") Wilkinson, has been a bankruptcy lawyer in South Carolina for 20 years. She is certified as a bankruptcy specialist by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
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