A disabled Army veteran who claims a law firm told him he “should have died” instead of collecting disability payments is suing in federal court.
Michael Collier and his wife, Kim Collier-Dingman, of Maricopa County, Ariz., allege that the Gurstel Chargo law firm and debt collection agency, which has offices in Minnesota, Arizona and Iowa, engaged in “deceptive, unfair and abusive” practices following a judge’s ruling that the firm illegally garnished their funds, according to court documents filed last week in U.S. District Court in Arizona.
The couple and their attorney, Floyd Bybee, who could not be reached for comment, claim the firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits harassment or abuse in the collection of a debt. In April, the collection firm froze $6,143 in Collier-Dingman’s savings account to collect on a defaulted student loan incurred by Collier, who suffered spinal and head injuries while serving in the U.S. Army, according to court documents.
A judge in May ruled that the money be returned since the funds were veteran's benefits that Collier-Dingman received as a result of her husband’s injuries and are exempt from collection.
Collier later contacted the firm to try to get the money back and was told to sue for it, according to his complaint. He also claims, according to the complaint, that he was subjected to a profanity-laced tirade from a legal assistant.
“[Expletive] you! Pay us your money!” the assistant said, according to the complaint. “You can’t afford an attorney. You owe us. I hope your wife divorces [you]. If you would have served our country better you would not be a disabled veteran living off Social Security while the rest of us honest Americans work our [expletive] off. Too bad; you should have died.”
In a statement posted on its website, Gurstel Chargo officials say they have been unable to substantiate the allegations.
“We are extremely disturbed by the allegations stated in the complaint, as they are contrary to the policies, practices and values of our firm,” the statement reads. “We expect that all Gurstel Chargo employees fully comply with all state and federal laws, and we thoroughly train our employees to perform their job in a lawful and respectful manner. Under no circumstances does our firm tolerate the type of conduct alleged in the Complaint.”