One-Sided Litigation: Lessons from Civil Docket Data in California Debt Collection Lawsuits
University of Illinois Chicago School of Law July 2023; The Debt Collection Lab, https://debtcollectionlab.org/research
41 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2023
Date Written: July 24, 2023
A study by Claire Johnson Raba, a researcher with the Debt Collection Lab, shows that debt cases are an increasing burden on consumers and the civil court system. In an evaluation of collection cases filed against consumer defendants in California’s most populous counties, court record data shine a light on the high-volume creditor plaintiffs who file hundreds of thousands of cases each year against unrepresented consumers. The Debt Collection Lab studied 2.2 million court records over an 11-year span from 2009-2020 to understand how debt collectors use the courts to obtain judgments against borrowers and collect payments on defaulted consumer debt. The findings show a strikingly low rate of consumer engagement throughout the court process, with consumers participating in the court process in less than ten percent of cases. For the repeat player creditor plaintiff, debt collection case filing trends over time reflect business decisions, but each of these 2.2 million cases is filed against an individual consumer defendant. For defendants, the court record data show that the court system is not accessible or available to unrepresented consumers. This one-sided litigation system excludes from the litigation process the voices, perspectives, and legal defenses of people sued to collect these debts.
Keywords: debt collection, consumer law, unrepresented litigants, state courts, big data, court data, civil procedure
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