When Kiara Caldwell signed forms to bail her close friend out of a California jail in 2018, she didn’t expect to be harassed with daily phone calls, threatened with the loss of her job, or sued in state court. Now, she is turning the tables on bail industry mainstay Bad Boys Bail Bonds with a class action lawsuit challenging what she says are unenforceable credit agreements that leave bail cosigners on the hook for thousands of dollars. The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Alameda Superior Court, is the first of its kind to target a bail company for violating California’s consumer protection laws, reports Courthouse News Service. “Bail companies have maintained that these consumer laws do not apply to them, but it’s not true,” said Elisa Della-Piana of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. If someone cannot afford to secure their release through bail, bonds companies will pay on their behalf in exchange for a nonrefundable premium payment, usually 10 percent of the bail amount. Agencies offer financing, called “credit bail,” where a cosigner must assume responsibility for the premium.
Like Caldwell, friends and family members often cosign credit agreements. Caldwell’s lawsuit says Bad Boys does not tell cosigners that they are fully responsible for repaying the loan. In 2018, Caldwell got a call from a bail bonds agency saying she could help a friend get out of jail. The friend had been arrested for shoplifting. The bail was set at $5,000. The bail agent wanted $1,000. Caldwell went to an ATM and withdrew $500 in cash. Caldwell believed her friend would be responsible for paying off the remaining $500. But the agreement she signed set a balance of $4,500, with payments of $450 due every month over ten to 18 months.