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¡No Se Deje!
Over the years, I have been told by many clients and others that they had been threatened with jail if they did not pay their bills. All of these people were Latino immigrants. In many cases, these people believed that they could be sent to jail for not paying their bills. As a result, many of them borrowed money from friends and family and sold cars and personal property to pay those bills.
YOU CANNOT BE SENT TO JAIL FOR OWING MONEY OR FOR NOT PAYING YOUR BILLS IN THIS COUNTRY.
So, why would creditors lie to Latino immigrants and threaten them with jail when they know that this is not true? Because these creditors know that too many Latino immigrants do not know the law and will not get legal advice to find out if it is true. It is possible that some of these immigrants come from countries where people can be put in jail for not paying their bills. But the main reason that creditors make false threats of jail is that it works for them. Each year creditors collect millions of dollars from Latino immigrants by lying to them and using false threats of jail.
Creditors can sue debtors in Civil Courts and, if they win, they can try to enforce the Judgment to collect the money they are owed. Creditors can use a Judgment to take money the debtor has in the bank or part of the debtor’s paychecks to repay the debt. But this legal procedure is not as effective and is very costly for creditors. And, even if the creditors spend the money for attorneys and court costs and ultimately get a court judgment declaring that the money is owed, they still have to try to collect the money.
If the debtors do not have money in the bank and are not buying a home, it is very difficult to ever collect on the judgment. And, if the judgment is for a large amount of money, debtors can avoid having money taking from their paychecks by changing jobs. It can be very difficult for creditors to find out who the debtor’s new employer is. And, creditors can also file for Bankruptcy.
Hospitals have been known to be especially aggressive and deceptive in trying to get their bills paid. One client reported that hospital representatives told him that he would not be allowed to leave the hospital until he and family members signed agreements to pay the bill. First of all, detaining someone against his will, for even a short period of time, depriving him of his liberty, is illegal. The debtor should have immediately tried to leave. If he was stopped from leaving, he could then sue the hospital and its representative and also press criminal charges against the representative that refused to let him leave.
In most cases, the hospital representatives will not actually try to stop the debtor patient from leaving. They know that it is against the law and they would not subject themselves or the hospital to the legal consequences of actually detaining someone. But they also know that many debtors do not know this and will sign the agreements, then make the payments, never knowing that they could not be legally detained at the hospital.
Remember, you cannot be sent to jail for owing money and you should not sign any documents until you have had them explained to you by someone you trust. You can and should insist on this. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®
JESS J. ARAUJO, ESQ.