A San Francisco jury found that Bank of America illegally raided the Social Security benefits of a million customers and awarded damages that could exceed $1 billion.
The case revolves around a California law that prohibits banks from taking customers' Social Security benefits to recover debts owed to the bank. The jury verdict, which followed a six-week trial, requires Bank of America to pay $75 million to the plaintiffs, plus $1,000 in special damages to each customer who proves the bank's actions caused substantial emotional or economic harm.
The case was filed six years ago by Paul Miller, a disabled photojournalist, whose income of roughly $640 per month came from Social Security and Supplemental Security Income, according to his attorneys Mark Johnson and Thomas Brandi. They said a mix-up that started when the bank improperly credited their client with $1,800, then deducted it later, threw Miller's life into turmoil.
Miller was awarded $275,000.
The suit, which eventually became a class action suit on behalf of more than a million others who depend on the government checks and said their accounts were tapped for bank charges, alleged that government-issued funds are protected from such deductions.
The bank's attorney, Joseph Genshlea, argued that the bank's policy was intended to protect its customers from problems such as bouncing a check.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Anne Bouliane will decide which customers qualify for the special damages.
Just a week ago, Bank of America agreed to pay $33 million to settle a nearly 10-year-old case alleging that 2,500 trust accounts were overcharged dating back to 1974. Bank of America uncovered the trust account problems after it inherited the customers in a 1992 acquisition of Security Pacific Bank.