H. Thomas Shaw

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The bankruptcy process is often viewed as purely financial, evoking images of only dollars and cents, secured and unsecured debts, and reorganization. However, there is more involved than purely financial matters. It can be personal, emotional, and leave a lasting effect upon the debtor's life. Historically, bankruptcy could be devastating to an individual, leading to public shame and humiliation. Although the public is now more accepting of a debtor's plight, it is still a harrowing experience. Due in part to the sensitive nature of bankruptcy, the drafters of the Constitution gave Congress the ability to pass uniform bankruptcy laws throughout the United States. With this power, Congress drafted the Bankruptcy Code with a primary focus on compensation and equitable distribution to creditors. However, Congress also sought to protect debtors by assuring their fair treatment, especially in Chapters 7 and 13 of the Bankruptcy Code. Intending to provide a "breathing spell" to debtors, Congress enacted legislation requiring an automatic stay on collection attempts following a bankruptcy petition's filing. Later, Congress gave teeth to its protection of debtors by providing a cause of action for "actual damages" resulting from a creditor's willful violation of the automatic stay