Disabled vet sues law firm, claiming abusive collection practices
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 16, 2012
A law firm accused of telling a disabled Army veteran that he “should have died” rather than collect disability payments is being sued for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, according to Arizona court documents filed last week.
Michael Collier, a 100 percent disabled veteran, and his wife, Kim Collier-Dingman, alleged that the Gurstel Chargo collection firm engaged in abusive practices after a judge ruled in favor of the Colliers over money that the firm illegally garnished in May.
In April, Gurstel Chargo had $6,143.88 in Collier-Dingman’s savings account frozen to collect on a defaulted student loan incurred by Collier, whose disability is the result of head and spinal injuries.
A judge ruled in May that the money be returned. The funds were veteran benefits that Collier-Dingman received as a result of her husband’s injuries, and therefore exempt from collection.
When Collier followed up by phone to ask when the money would be returned, he was told he wouldn’t get it back without suing, according to the couple’s complaint. When he persisted, Collier claims in the complaint that he heard a profanity-laced tirade from a legal assistant.
“[Expletive] you! Pay us your money!” the assistant said, according to the complaint. “You can’t afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces [you]. If you would have served our country better you would not be a disabled veteran living off social security while the rest of us honest Americans work our [expletive] off. Too bad; you should have died.”
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits the use of profanity and harassment. The suit also alleges an invasion of privacy and illegal conversion of their disability payments.
In a statement posted on the firm’s web site, Gurstel Chargo said that it is conducting an internal investigation, but that they have not uncovered any information that would substantiate the allegations.
“We are extremely disturbed by the allegations stated in the Complaint, as they are contrary to the policies, practices and values of our firm,” according to the statement.
The statement does not address why the firm did not return the money garnished from Collier-Dingman’s account following the May court decision.