When a creditor violates the automatic stay, it’s like a slap in the face. You’re already down, struggling to keep your head above water, and then bam! They come at you with all they’ve got, completely ignoring the fact that you’ve filed for bankruptcy protection. It’s not right, and it’s not fair.

But here’s the thing: you’ve got rights. The automatic stay is there to protect you, to give you a chance to catch your breath and figure things out. And when a creditor tramples all over that, they’re breaking the law. Plain and simple.

So what can you do about it? How can you fight back against a creditor who just won’t play by the rules? That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today.

What Is an Automatic Stay?

When you file for bankruptcy protection, an automatic stay immediately goes into effect. It’s like a legal forcefield that shields you from most collection activities.

Filing for bankruptcy triggers an automatic stay, giving you a much-needed reprieve from creditor harassment. This temporary shield lets you recharge and focus on mapping out your next move.

How an Automatic Stay Works

The moment your bankruptcy petition is filed, the automatic stay kicks in. It’s like a big “STOP” sign for your creditors.

They have to halt any ongoing collection activity and can’t start any new actions against you. This includes:

  • Foreclosure proceedings
  • Repossession of your car or other property
  • Wage garnishments
  • Collection calls and letters
  • Utility shut-offs

There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, the automatic stay gives you a much-needed break from the constant barrage of collection efforts.

What Debts Are Exempt From an Automatic Stay

While the automatic stay is broad, it doesn’t cover every type of debt. Some notable exceptions include:

  • Criminal proceedings
  • Child support and alimony
  • Certain tax proceedings
  • Loans from your pension

These debts can still be collected, even after you file for bankruptcy. But for most people, the vast majority of their debts will be put on hold by the automatic stay.

The Length of an Automatic Stay

So how long does this protection last? It depends on the type of bankruptcy case you file.

In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the automatic stay remains in effect until your case is closed, dismissed, or until you receive a discharge (usually about 3-4 months).

If you file Chapter 13, the automatic stay protects you throughout your repayment plan, which typically lasts 3-5 years. As long as you make your plan payments, creditors can’t come after you.

Filing for bankruptcy can be overwhelming, but the automatic stay is like having a safety net. It immediately halts all debt collection efforts, giving you room to catch your breath and regroup.

What Happens When a Creditor Violates the Automatic Stay

Sometimes creditors just don’t get the memo about the automatic stay. Or they choose to ignore it. Either way, if a creditor keeps trying to collect from you after your bankruptcy filing, they’re violating the law.

I’ve witnessed it all – from relentless collection letters to intimidating letters from creditors who should know better. And then, to add insult to injury, the repo man shows up at your doorstep, ready to take away your car. It’s a daunting experience for anyone already struggling.

But here’s the good news: you have recourse when a creditor violates the automatic stay. The bankruptcy court has the power to punish creditors who flout the law and to compensate you for any harm they cause.

How to Prove a Creditor Willfully Violated the Automatic Stay

If you want the court to step in, you’ll need to prove that the creditor was aware of your bankruptcy case and still chose to pursue collection actions. That’s what’s considered a willful violation.

Evidence of a willful stay violation might include:

  • Collection notices sent to you after your filing bankruptcy
  • Phone calls demanding payment
  • Repossession or foreclosure actions
  • Continuation of a lawsuit or wage garnishment

Basically, if a creditor keeps up any collection efforts after being informed of your bankruptcy, there’s a good chance they’re willfully violating the stay.

Consequences for Creditors Who Violate the Automatic Stay

Creditors who choose to disregard the automatic stay can face serious consequences from the bankruptcy court. If a violating creditor is found to have willfully violated the stay, the court can:

  • Order the creditor to pay actual damages to the debtor
  • Make the creditor pay the debtor’s attorneys’ fees
  • Impose punitive damages to punish the creditor
  • Hold the creditor in contempt of court’s order

I once had a client whose vehicle was repossessed after they filed Chapter 13. We filed a motion against the creditor and the court not only made them return property, but also pay my client’s legal fees and damages for the time they were without the vehicle. That creditor learned an expensive lesson about respecting the automatic stay.

Creditors who ignore the automatic stay do so at their own risk. The court takes violations very seriously, and those who break the rules will face the consequences.

Creditors, beware. If you’re thinking of continuing to collect debts after a bankruptcy notice, think again. The automatic stay is a powerful protector of debtors’ rights, and violating it can lead to serious consequences.

Key Takeaway:

When you file for bankruptcy, an automatic stay immediately stops most collection actions. This legal protection gives you time to regroup without creditor harassment. However, if a creditor violates this stay by continuing collection efforts like repossession or wage garnishment, the court can penalize them and compensate you.

Damages for Willful Violations of the Automatic Stay

If a creditor blatantly disrespects the automatic stay, you may be eligible for compensation for any resulting harm, including actual damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees.

So, you think you’ve got a solid case, but do you have the goods to back it up? Without clear evidence of the harm caused, your argument will fall flat.

Proving Actual Damages from a Stay Violation

Actual damages are the quantifiable losses you suffered due to the creditor’s actions. This might include lost wages if you missed work to deal with the violation, or medical bills for stress-related health issues.

When building a case for a damages award, it’s essential to gather concrete evidence. This can include pay stubs, doctor’s notes, and receipts that demonstrate the impact of the incident. The more robust your documentation, the stronger your claim will be.

A creditor’s aggressive tactics, including repeated calls to my client’s workplace, pushed her to the brink. We took action, documenting the devastating impact on her career and emotional well-being. In the end, the court recognized the harm and awarded her fair compensation for her actual damages.

When Punitive Damages May Be Awarded

In extreme cases of stay violations, the court may impose an additional penalty – punitive damages. This monetary punishment is meant to chastise the creditor and discourage similar misconduct in the future.

To get punitive damages, you’ll typically need to show the creditor acted with malice or reckless disregard for your rights. An example might be a creditor who ignores multiple bankruptcy notices and continues aggressive collection efforts.

I once represented a disabled veteran whose vehicle was wrongfully repossessed after he filed for bankruptcy. The creditor refused to return the vehicle even after being notified of the stay. We won a substantial punitive damages award to compensate my client for this blatant violation.

Recovering Attorney’s Fees and Costs

If you successfully bring a stay violation motion, you may be eligible to recover attorney fees and costs. This means you can stand up for your rights without breaking the bank.

Detailed billing records and invoices from your bankruptcy attorney are key to proving the amount of fees and costs incurred. The court will review these for reasonableness before awarding them as part of your damages.

We fought tooth and nail for months, gathering evidence of a creditor’s blatant stay violations. The courtroom battle was intense, but in the end, our hard work paid off. My client was awarded damages, including costs and full attorney fees—a triumphant moment that made all the stress worthwhile.

If a creditor has violated the automatic stay in your bankruptcy case, don’t hesitate to seek the damages you’re owed. With proper documentation and experienced legal counsel, you can get the compensation you deserve. Bankruptcy is a chance at a fresh start – don’t let creditor harassment derail that.

What to Do If a Creditor Violates the Automatic Stay

If you suspect a creditor violates automatic stay, swift action is crucial. The faster you address the issue, the better your chances of stopping the violation and recovering damages.

The million-dollar question: what to do now. Here’s my guidance to help you take the leap.

Informing the Creditor of Your Bankruptcy Filing

Your first move should be to tell the creditor about your bankruptcy if you haven’t already. This puts them on notice that the automatic stay is in effect.

Send a letter by certified mail with a copy of your bankruptcy petition. This creates a paper trail showing when the creditor was informed.

I also recommend following up with a phone call to confirm receipt. Document the date, time, and name of the person you spoke with. The more proof you have of notice, the better.

In one case, a creditor claimed they were never notified of my client’s bankruptcy. But we had certified mail receipts and phone logs showing multiple notices. This documentation was crucial in proving a willful stay violation.

Filing a Motion with the Bankruptcy Court

If the creditor continues collection efforts after being notified, it’s time to notify the bankruptcy court. You’ll need to file a motion for sanctions for the stay violation.

We’re seeking a remedy for the creditor’s wrongful actions, and we’re asking the court to step in. Specifically, we’re requesting compensation for the harm caused, reimbursement for our attorney fees, and a court order to put a stop to the creditor’s aggressive collection activity.

Your bankruptcy attorney can draft and file this motion for you. Representing yourself in court is rarely advisable, especially when seeking damages.

I still remember the urgency I felt when a creditor started seizing my client’s hard-earned wages after they’d already filed for bankruptcy. I sprang into action, filing an emergency motion to put a stop to the garnishment, and eventually, we secured significant compensation for the blatant violation.

Seeking Return of Property Taken in Violation of the Stay

In some cases, a creditor may seize property like a vehicle or funds from a bank account after you’ve filed for bankruptcy. If this happens, demand the immediate return of the property.

Put the creditor on notice: inform them in writing that they’ve overstepped the automatic stay and demand they return your property. Make it clear that if they don’t comply, you’ll take them to court and seek damages.

If the creditor doesn’t return the property promptly, file a motion with the bankruptcy court. Request an order compelling turnover of the property and sanctioning the creditor.

In a memorable case, a secured creditor repossessed my client’s car in the middle of the night after he filed his bankruptcy petition. We demanded its return and filed an emergency motion when the creditor refused. The court held that the creditor willfully violated the automatic stay, ordered the car returned within 24 hours, and awarded significant damages. We made the violating creditor pay for that transgression.

Filing for bankruptcy is a big step, and one of the most important benefits is the automatic stay. This powerful protection blocks creditors from bothering you, but what happens if they violate it? Don’t let them get away with it – here’s how to take action and hold them accountable.

Key Takeaway:

If a creditor violates the automatic stay, act quickly. Notify them of your bankruptcy and keep proof. If they persist, file a motion with the court for sanctions and damages. Seek return of any property taken unlawfully. Proper documentation and legal help can ensure you get compensated.

Notable Court Cases on Automatic Stay Violations

If a creditor disregards the automatic stay, they may face serious repercussions. Under the bankruptcy code, debtors are entitled to claim actual damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees for willful violations, sending a strong message to creditors to respect the stay.

What does it mean to commit a willful violation? To better understand, let’s explore some landmark bankruptcy litigation cases that shed light on this crucial issue.

In re Winyah Surgical Specialists, P.A. v. James DeFeo

In the case of In re Winyah Surgical Specialists, P.A. v. James DeFeo, the court found the creditor in willful violation of the automatic stay after repossessing the debtor’s vehicle post-bankruptcy filing.

The creditor got wind of the bankruptcy filing, but went ahead with the repossession anyway. The court’s message was clear: ignoring the automatic stay is a serious no-no. They slapped the creditor with a hefty fine, ordering them to cough up actual damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.

In re Taggart

A landmark case that had a profound impact on willful stay violations is the Supreme Court case of In re Taggart. The court’s ruling was clear: creditors can be held in civil contempt if their actions violate the stay, and there’s no reasonable doubt about it.

The Supreme Court sought to find a middle ground, ensuring accountability for creditors while sparing those who acted with honest intentions. Their reasoning was clear: if a reasonable person would have known about the stay, then claiming ignorance just wouldn’t cut it.

The bottom line is that if a creditor receives notice of a bankruptcy filing, they must halt all collection activity. Proceeding despite the automatic stay can result in the court finding the defendant willfully violated the stay and ordering them to pay damages, including costs and attorney’s fees. Seeking legal guidance is prudent if there’s uncertainty about whether the automatic stay applies in a particular situation.

Key Takeaway:

When creditors ignore the automatic stay, courts can impose severe penalties. Notable cases show that knowing about a bankruptcy filing and still proceeding with collection activities can lead to significant damages, including attorney’s fees. Courts balance creditor accountability while considering good faith actions.


When a creditor violates the automatic stay, it’s a serious matter. They’re not just breaking the law – they’re kicking you when you’re already down. But you don’t have to take it lying down.

Don’t let creditors push you around. When you file for bankruptcy, you’ve got rights – and you can exercise them. That means sending notice to creditors, taking your case to court, or even reclaiming property that’s rightfully yours.

The automatic stay is your shield against creditor harassment. When they overstep, it’s time to stand firm and assert your rights. Don’t let them bully you—take back control. For more information regarding the automatic stay in bankruptcy filings, contact The Law Office of William Waldner today. contact The Law Office of William Waldner