A federal jury awarded a Fort Benning Soldier more than $20 million on Monday in a case against Coldwell Banker Mortgage -- an amount the plaintiff's attorney called necessary to get the company's attention.
Jurors in the case of David Brash v. PHH Mortgage Corp., doing business as Coldwell Banker, deliberated for about six hours before ruling in Brash's favor. During the six-day trial, jurors heard that Coldwell Banker improperly reported Brash, 29, to credit bureaus which led to a "serious delinquency" on his credit report, that it refused to answer his questions or correct his account and damaged him emotionally, physically and financially, his attorneys and court documents say.
"The jury was aggravated as to how he was treated," said Charlie Gower, an attorney who represents Brash. "I think the jury was just very mad because they were attacking David Brash the Soldier and basically calling him a liar."According to Brash's December 2009 complaint, the U.S. Army sergeant bought a North Columbus home in November 2007 and got his mortgage through Coldwell Banker. Brash set up automatic monthly payments because he was on active duty, and no problems occurred for almost 18 months.
That's when Brash started getting numerous phone calls and letters about missing or making late payments. Brash tried several times through phone calls and letters to explain himself, and he was told a number of times that Coldwell Banker would correct the error, his suit states.
Jurors heard recordings of calls Brash made, recorded by PHH Mortgage, in which Brash would be on hold for 30 or 40 minutes at a time with overseas customer service representatives, said Gower and Teresa Thomas Abell, another attorney representing Brash.
"The longest time was 55 minutes -- listening to music or nothing," Gower said.
In May 2009, Brash got a letter threatening to report his supposed delinquency to credit bureaus. Abell said her client was adamant that he not be reported, and the suit states Brash spoke with one representative for more than an hour about Coldwell Banker's error.
The problems continued, and Brash hired Gower, who wrote a formal request to PHH Mortgage's president asking for written confirmation that Brash's account was current. Brash never received a response, Gower said, though adjustments were made to Brash's account.
Brash kept getting notices alleging he failed to make his payments, and he hired Gower again who sent another written request. Gower said that the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act restricts a mortgage company from reporting a customer during the 60-business day period when they must respond to such a written request.
In November 2009, Brash was reported as being "serious delinquent" to credit reporting agencies.Gower says in a release that PHH Mortgage accused Brash at trial of improperly filling out forms. An attorney for the mortgage company couldn't be reached late Monday afternoon.
Jurors awarded Brash $1 million in compensatory damages plus $575 for out-of-pocket expenses. They awarded Brash $350,000 for attorney fees. The $20 million award was in punitive damages, Gower said.
"The evidence showed that PHH Mortgage serviced approximately 1 million mortgages valued at $163 billion," Gower states in his release. "The jury verdict on punitive damages was necessary to get PHH Mortgage's attention."