In the last five years, Utahns were sued in 330,000 debt-collection cases. An online tool for people who can’t afford legal services was developed by a team from the Brigham Young University Law School.
“This is a debt collection epidemic, that I’m not sure people are aware of,” said Kimball Parker, the Law X director of BYU’s legal design lab.
Parker said that the one in ten Utahns who have a debt-collection lawsuit is just the beginning of the problem. If you’re sued, you have 21 days to respond to the lawsuit. If you don’t respond, the judge assumes that everything in the lawsuit is true.
According to the Utah Court System, almost 80 percent of people default, meaning they don’t answer the lawsuit. Parker and his team of nine students interviewed some of these people to find out why.
“We heard people say I don’t know how to answer and it’s very difficult to submit my response,” Parker said. “We gathered up all that information and found that the overall sentiment of these people was that they were hopeless, they felt completely hopeless.”
Not only is the system too complicated, the most common debt-collection lawsuit are medical bills.
Parker and his team developed an online tool similar to TurboTax called SoloSuit. The software turns a complicated legal task into a user-friendly system.
“We wanted to design something that really gave them hope, that they could navigate the legal system,” Parker said.
The developers even stripped the software of any difficult legal language. So far, this resource has been successful for many Utahns during the testing period.
“For example we spoke with one lady down in Springville who had a medical debt related to a procedure of her son,” Parker said. “The anesthesia for that procedure was not covered.”
Parkers said using the software doesn’t mean they’re going to win the case, but it at least give them a fighting chance.
“This debt-collection problem is the biggest problem facing the law in Utah today,” Parker said. “It effects the most needy, the most destitute people in our society. The law treats those people the worst. To help them and to give them a fighting chance, it’s very rewarding.”
SoloSuit generated 70 responses to lawsuits in its first two days of operation.