Do we have to pay a lawyer who says they’re trying to collect for a company, when the company says we owe them nothing and are not on file with them?

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Do we have to pay a lawyer who says they’re trying to collect for a company, when the company says we owe them nothing and are not on file with them?

My wife got a letter saying this lawyers group was collecting a debt for a medical company. Firstly, she never received a bill from this company. Secondly, when we called the company to ask why we never received a bill and why it was sent to a lawyer, the company said my wife was not in their system and as far as they were concerned owed them nothing. Now, even after telling the lawyers group this, they still call and send letters. I don’t feel right sending a check to someone when apparently we owe nothing. How do I get the lawyers off my wife’s back?

Asked on June 13, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Alabama

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

First, you need to verify that you do not owe the attorney anything: it's possible, for example, he's collecting on a different legitimate debt, or that the medical company (if they ever did anything for your wife) had sold the lawyer the debt, so that they no longer show it in their system but he is collecting a true debt from them. Ask the attorney to send proof of the debt, which they should be required to do, such as under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA). If they send you evidence of the debt, then you can decide whether it's valid and what to do about. As a general rule, you don't have to pay a debt that is not yours--but if you are sued, you have to actually answer and respond to the lawsuit, then establish your rights in court, or you will lose automatically. The first step, though, is requesting documentation. Note that if the lawyer group refuses to prove the debt but still tries to coerce or bully you into paying, you may wish to file an ethical complaint against them with the office of your state court system whcih regulates lawyers.


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