Florida Debt Collection Law: Account Stated – Disagree Now or Pay Later

In Patricia Farley v. Chase Bank, U.S.A, N.A., No. 4D09-651 (opinion published on June 9, 2010) (not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing), the District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida, Fourth District, sent a cautionary message to those who fail to object within a reasonable period of time to incorrect account statements.

In every civil legal case, the initial burden of proof is upon the Plaintiff to present a prima facie case. In a lawsuit brought to collect a debt, this means that the Plaintiff/Creditor must come forward initially with probative evidence of the correct amount of the debt and the liability of the debtor. Without doing so, the Plaintiff/Creditor’s case will fail.

In the Farley case, before the lawsuit was filed Chase Bank had rendered an account statement to Ms. Farley. When Ms. Farley failed to pay or challenge the correctness of the statement, she was sued by the bank.

At the trial court level, Chase Bank came forward with evidence that Ms. Farley had received the account statement and failed to challenge its correctness. Ms. Farley insisted that Chase Bank must prove its case by providing an itemized copy of the account sued upon. The trial court disagreed with Ms. Farley, concluding instead that the bank had made a prima facie case by presenting evidence that Ms. Farley had failed to challenge the correctness of the pre-suit account statement. Ms. Farley’s appeal of the trial court’s decision was rejected by the 4th DCA.

The District Court of Appeal held that “when an account statement has been ‘”rendered to and received by one who made no objection thereto within a reasonable time,'” a prima facie case for the correctness of the account and the liability of the debtor has been made.” In other words, remaining silent about an account statement raises a presumption that it is correct.

Had Ms. Farley challenged the correctness of the account statement within a reasonable period of time, Chase Bank would have been required to come forward with evidence other than a simple account statement that a specified balance is correct and due. This is not always easy to do.

Rightfully, the court’s opinion did not foreclose the defenses of fraud, mistake, or error. However, it remains the purported debtor’s burden to prove them.

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Jeffrey P. Gale, P.A. is a South Florida based law firm committed to the judicial system and to representing and obtaining justice for individuals – the poor, the injured, the forgotten, the voiceless, the defenseless and the damned, and to protecting the rights of such people from corporate and government oppression. We do not represent government, corporations or large business interests.