Angela P. Williams says she got nothing but a runaround
from Equifax as she tried for more than a decade to
clear up an identity mix-up that ruined her credit. Now
she’s hitting the credit-reporting giant where it hurts:
on the bottom line.
An Orlando jury awarded Williams a multimillion-dollar
verdict against Equifax for years of failing to correct
dramatic errors in Williams’ credit report that led to
her credit score being trashed.
Atlanta-based Equifax must pay the medical-transcription
worker $219,000 in actual damages and $2.7 million in
punitive damages for negligent violation of federal
credit reporting laws, according to the verdict Friday
in state Circuit Court in Orlando.
It is the largest punitive-damages award ever against
Equifax, which would not comment on the case. An appeal
Williams, who recently moved from Brevard County to the
Jacksonville area, said she was surprised but gratified
by the decision.
“This has been a nightmare,” she said Monday. “It’s not
so much about the money, but about the punishment. I
know I’m not the only one that has gone through this.
But people need to know their rights. They need to check
their credit report and try to be in charge of their
The verdict was a big vote of confidence for people who
wrestle with a flawed credit-reporting system and take
on big corporations that refuse to acknowledge mistakes,
said Steven Fahlgren, a Florida-based consumer lawyer
who represents Williams.
“We’ve fought this battle for years, and, despite all
the evidence, Equifax denied almost until the end that
there were any mistakes in my client’s credit file,” he
said. “But I’m so proud that the jury saw the evidence
for what it was. This is a great victory for consumers.”
At trial, her lawyers — including co-counsel Robert Sola
of Portland, Ore. — showed how Equifax repeatedly
confused Williams with someone who had a similar name
but whose credit file was rife with bad debt.
Though Williams disputed and debunked the errors
numerous times, Equifax kept passing along the false
information, ruining her credit, she testified. After
eight years of trying to resolve the issue, she sued the
company in 2003. Two earlier defendants — Experian and
American Recovery Systems — settled the case out of
In the meantime, Williams, 37, who works for Orlando
Foot & Ankle Clinic, from the Jacksonville area, was
denied student loans, credit-card accounts, ATM cards
and other financial applications, she said. She also
couldn’t apply for a mortgage, fearing more recurrence
of the credit problems.
“When this all began [in 1994], I didn’t realize it
would be years until things got straightened out,” she
said. “But now I still don’t have the confidence to go
and apply for credit. I’m scared of the denials. And I’m
a little leery of the credit-reporting agencies. I don’t
There has been a spate of consumer cases against the
largest credit-reporting operations in recent years,
resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in
judgments, said Evan Hendricks, publisher of Privacy
Times, a newsletter that tracks such issues.
Too often, people have been victimized by the companies’
streamlined, automated process of “investigating”
alleged credit-file errors, he said. The process is set
up to save money and boost profits rather than protect
consumers, said Hendricks, an author who testified in
the Williams case.
“If the Williams judgment gets reduced — as many of them
do on appeal — it could be seen by the company as just a
cost of doing business and no real reason to change,” he
said. “But if it is upheld, it is a robust notice that
what they were doing isn’t good enough. And finally
after all these years, they may agree to some common
sense changes to avoid this sort of thing.”
As for Williams, she’s just not convinced it is all
“I’m not sure this will bring resolution,” she said. “I
don’t have a lot of confidence especially in Equifax,
after so many years of having problems. I’m just not
confident that I won’t have to go through this again.”
Richard Burnett can be reached at 407-420-5256 or
See the Article as it appeared in the Orlando Sentinel
on Tuesday, November 4th, 2007