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Refusing to back down from debt collection wins the day in court

It's taken nearly four years, but an Evanston man is finally free and clear of a pestering medical debt collector. It's a headache he shouldn't have had to endure. Through it all he stuck to his position. In the end, a federal court ordered the harassment to stop and told the collection company to compensate the man for this troubles.

This case found its resolution in the courts. Bankruptcy might have delivered much the same result, but not every case requires such action. An attorney is best situated to offer guidance on that question and it appears this man had the benefit of that.

The man's story was shared this week in the Chicago Tribune. According to the report, the bill was for just $327. But as those with experience in bankruptcy law know, collection agencies can be dogged in pursuit of even more trivial amounts than that. And to protect a person's credit and financial standing, it sometimes becomes necessary to be just as tenacious.

The pain began in 2011 when the man went to the emergency room at St. Francis Hospital. He expected his insurance to cover the bill, and it appears the company intended to. But when the insurer didn't receive additional information requested from the practice representing the ER doctors, it closed the claim without paying. Seven months later, the collection agency started writing and calling demanding payment.

The patient informed the collector by phone and writing that he was disputing the bill and asked the agency to verify the debt. That should have gotten the ball rolling on clearing the air. And yet, a little bit later, he received yet another notice in the mail demanding payment.

Court papers show that the collection agency admitted that it had received appropriate notices of dispute from the man and that its last letter was an unintentional mistake. As such, it couldn't be held liable.

The initial federal court that heard the case apparently agreed with the collector because it sparked an appeal. This time the court ruled in favor of the patient. In the appeals court's words, the company can't intentionally send a letter and then say it was a mistake.

It ordered the company to pay the man $1,000 and cover his attorney's fees and legal costs.

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