A military family has filed two separate lawsuits against BMW Financial Services and Navy Federal Financial Group for allegedly violating state and federal laws created to provide financial protection to military members and their families during deployments.
Patricia and Staff Sergeant Donald Mason live in Riverside County but say their cases have broad significance, especially in San Diego where there’s a large military community.
Patricia Mason tells NBC 7 when her husband left for deployment last October, she thought all their payments on their two leased Chryslers had been deferred. She now says that couldn’t be further away from the truth.
The couple believed they were protected under state and federal laws, which include the California Military Families Financial Relief Act and the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practice Act.
According to the complaint: “Plaintiff Donald…never once received a notice of default prior to entering active duty on October 18, 2013.” It goes on to explain, “As [Donald] was advised to do so by his Judge Advocates General representative, Plaintiff Donald delivered a letter to Defendant BMW’s business entity called Alphera dated October 15, 2013…informing Defendant BMW of his recent order to active duty and requested to defer payments under the laws applicable to active duty servicemembers.”
The Masons say a few months into his deployment, calls started coming in from both BMW and Navy Federal Financial Group.
Patricia says she was harassed by the debt collectors, which is why they’re suing the companies. The complaint against BMW also includes the parent company of American Recovery Service.
“Yeah, I have a problem with that,” said Marine reservist and attorney at Law John Schweitzer. He does not represent the Masons.
“The person calling is most likely, 99.99 percent of the time not a lawyer,” he told NBC 7. Schweitzer says in his 15 years in the Marines, he’s seen many cases like this where businesses are accused of either not knowing the laws protecting deployed military members and just not following them.
Staff Sgt. Mason, who is still deployed overseas, says the stress has been unbearable on him and his family.
“It's hard for me not to be able to reach out and hug them when they need it,” he said on a call with NBC 7.
When asked what she wants out of these lawsuits, Patricia Mason said, “I want to win this one. I do. I feel like I deserve to win this one for everything that they put me through knowing he's over there, and I'm over here and thinking everything is perfectly fine. I want them to see what they've done to people.”
NBC 7 reached out to the companies named in the complaint.
BMW responded in an e-mail, "We are aware of the lawsuit but we cannot comment as it is pending litigation."
A Navy Federal spokesperson wrote to NBC 7, "Our members are always Navy Federal's top priority, and as such, we are actively working to resolve this claim."
NBC 7 also tried contacting American Recovery Service and its parent company, but have not heard back.
Experts say if you find yourself in a similar situation, you should first seek free legal assistance from your judge advocate on base. However, if the situation doesn't get resolved, there is a good chance you'll have to find your own lawyer.