Posts Tagged ‘debtors prison’

Is the worst that can happen being thrown in jail for an unpaid medical debt?

Friday, July 5th, 2013

Question: I had to go to the community hospital, as I was really sick and thought I was going to die. I applied for county indigent assistance on my bill and thought that they would take care of it, as I was unemployed. Then I received debt collection calls demanding that I had to pay more than the original bill. I could not pay it, but now I have been sued and they want to also be paid interest and the court costs. What is the worst? Is jail time possible, if I cannot pay?

My Response:

The question of debtors prison and county jail should be the furthest thing from your mind on an unpaid personal debt. When the Constitution was written and ratified by the states, it allowed Congress to provide a safety valve of filing for bankruptcy, as a last resort to discharge most debts for those who qualify. (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4.) In 1833, federal law eliminated prison for private debts and the states followed. Now, it would be amazing to find an instance where a person is jailed in any state, simply for not being able to pay their personal debts.

Nevertheless, fear of debtor’s prisons are stoked regularly by the news media, even CBS news uses provocative headlines to catch more readers. As recently as 2012, CBS ran a report with the headline: “Jailed for $280: The return of debtors’ prisons.” In fact, the report had nothing to do with the headline. Someone reading the headline would probably believe that not paying a $280 bill or credit card may result in a jail sentence.

Upon reading the entire 2012 CBS News Report, however, it is clear that there is no return of debtors prisons in the USA. The people who were threatened with or spent time in jail were there because they failed to appear in court when ordered, for criminal acts, or they failed to pay court-imposed fines associated with criminal convictions. The other issue in the CBS report was that several states allowed collection charges to be added on top of already expensive court fines.

A judgment is not inevitable if a debt collection lawsuit is filed against an individual, particularly if defended by an experienced debt collection defense attorney, who will handle the case to get it resolved before trial, either by settlement or dismissal. Moreover, even if a money judgment is entered by the court against a person, there are numerous ways to get that judgment resolved and NO chance of jail time, provided that, when so order, the debtor appears in court, answers questions truthfully, and does not commit any criminal acts that are punishable with jail time.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler
Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer