Appellate Decision Shows Debt Collectors’ Problems Proving Consumer Liability
The Massachusetts Appeals Court recently issued a decision directly relevant to how most debt collectors and debt buyers prove their cases. The decision shows the fundamental problems debt collectors have at trial trying to show that they have been assigned the debts they’re collecting. Consumers defending against debt-collection lawsuits may be able to put this case to good use.
Here’s what happened in the lawsuit. A company called Viper Ventures sued to collect on three promissory notes. Viper was apparently a debt buyers because it purchased the notes from a bank. At trial, Viper produced no documentary evidence. Instead, it tried to use the testimony of one of its employees about how much was owed.
This testimony was impermissible hearsay, said the Appeals Court. To prove how much was owed, the documents themselves – the documents showing how much was owed – had to be provided. The employee was not permitted to testify about documents not in evidence.
This is what is called the Best Evidence Rule, which requires that to prove the contents of a document, the original document must be produced. Evidentiary principles generally require that firsthand information be provided. The court explained that “as the testimony thus sought to prove the content of those records, it should not have been admitted.”
This principle is one that our office commonly uses in lawsuits brought by debt collectors and debt buyers. Debt collectors rarely, if ever, have proof that a debt has been assigned to them. Instead, they use affidavits that essentially say “trust us, we have the assignment.” That’s not good enough, under the rules of evidence.
Shoddy documentation like this can often be used at trial or in a motion to dismiss the case. Culik Law is a Boston, Massachusetts consumer protection law firm. Our attorneys have handled many cases successfully against debt collectors. If you have been sued by a debt collector, let us see if we can help you to do the same. Contact us for a case evaluation.