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Debt collector facing lawsuit; Allegations of harassment.

Byline: Susan Spencer

GRAFTON - A Grafton woman is suing a debt collection agency hired by UMass Memorial Medical Center and UMass Memorial Medical Group for allegedly harassing and misleading telephone calls in violation of state and federal consumer protection laws.

She alleges the calls caused her undue stress that precipitated the premature delivery of her baby last summer.

A civil complaint was filed Jan. 20 in U.S. District Court in Worcester by lawyer Richard K. Berger, on behalf of Nina M. Scott, against Associated Credit Services of Westboro. The complaint alleges that ACS violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act when it made repeated phone calls to collect on outstanding payments for medical services that Ms. Scott had arranged with the hospital and physicians group to pay under a monthly payment plan.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors are prohibited from engaging in harassing, oppressive or abusive conduct in connection with the collection of a debt. Further, debt collectors may not use false, deceptive or misleading tactics or engage in "unfair or unconscionable means" to attempt to collect a debt.

A message left yesterday morning with Andrew B. Robinson, Associated Credit Services president and chief operations officer, was not returned.

According to the complaint, Ms. Scott had set up a payment plan on May 20, 2011, to pay a debt of $1,743 to UMass Memorial Medical Center in 23 monthly payments of $75, starting on June 3, 2011. She set up a second payment plan with UMass Memorial Medical Group, originally on May 20 and revised July 5, calling for 30 monthly payments of $25 to pay off a debt of $799. Mr. Berger said yesterday he intended to verify and find out more about the financial amounts during discovery process.

On June 23, despite the arranged payment plans, UMass Memorial submitted debts of $349 and $199 to Associated Credit Services for collection, the complaint says.

Ms. Scott, who was expecting her second child on Aug. 3, was put on bed rest at home on June 25 for the remainder of her pregnancy.

ACS began calling Ms. Scott on June 27 and made at least 10 more calls between then and August, according to telephone records, although Ms. Scott repeatedly told the collection agency that she was current on her payments and had a payment plan.

On July 8, a day after Ms. Scott received a call that the complaint says caused her a great deal of stress and anxiety, she contacted a financial counselor at UMass Memorial Medical Center about the calls. The counselor assured Ms. Scott that she would contact the collection agency to let it know the payment plan was current and in effect, the complaint says.

Ms. Scott was rushed to the hospital early the next morning, on July 9, and gave birth to her baby three and a half weeks early.

Calls from Associated Credit Services continued, after a brief hiatus around the baby's birth, until a cease-and-desist letter was sent by Ms. Scott's lawyer on Aug. 26.

"This isn't a high-volume call case," Mr. Berger said. "It's a case that focuses on the fact that they knew or should have known that she was current on her payments. The consumer should be at least listened to."

The complaint also alleges Associated Credit Services violated state law on unfair and deceptive trade practices and the attorney general's regulations on debt collection.

Ms. Scott's complaint seeks compensatory and statutory damages and all costs of the lawsuit.

Robert Brogna, spokesman for UMass Memorial Medical Center, which is not part of the lawsuit, said the hospital could not comment on the issue because of patient confidentiality.
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Title Annotation:BUSINESS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 27, 2012
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