Am I responsible for anything outside of my apartment unit?

I may have to go to court to fight cable theft charges. Apt complex is bad, I have letters of break-in of the rent box, mail, etc. from the office. Also, pics from 2 separate months were cable company boxes are busted open from each bldg. Case is being dismissed in justice of the peace court/disputed citation. Now I get a letter from some rep of the cable comp that I can settle, 1500 + 2yr contract or go to court, 10k max fine. Hints they have proof I watched cable, not true. Can they really prove this? Should I dispute or settle to get it over with? Am I liable for outside of my apt?

Asked on June 12, 2009 under Criminal Law, Texas

Answers:

M.S., Member, Connecticut Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

With many crimes involving theft, the corporation that was allegedly stolen from will contract out with a law firm to send these types of letters to all of the defendants who were arrested for theft from their company.  The idea is that many defendants will prefer to settle rather than risk disputing the charges.  What this means, in a practical sense, is that these defendants basically just write checks to the firm, which is basically found money for them.  In my experience, I have often seen individuals accused of shoplifting receive these types of letters; however, I do not see why the general business model does not transfer to individuals accused of cable theft.  In my opinion, many of these operations are basically scams - the victim turning the tables and stealing from the accused.

The first thing to look for is whether the letter that you received is from an attorney, and if so, whether that attorney is licensed to practice law in the state where you live.  If that attorney is not licensed to practice law in that state it is a very good indication that there is no real "teeth" behind their demand, as they would not be able to file suit.  Another way that you may be able to determine that this is a scam is from the amount of money that is being demanded.  In other words, most attorneys charge at least $250/hour.  Therefore, from an economic sense, it would not make sense for an attorney to file a lawsuit seeking to recover $1,000.00, due to the fact that it would likely take more than four hours of work to recover the money via a lawsuit and therefore it would not be worth their time.

Thus, if the amount demanded is relatively low and it is being demanded by an attorney not licensed to practice law within your state, these are rather strong indications that you are being scammed.  

Nevertheless, any time you are being threatened with civil liability it is a good idea to discuss the matter, in detail, with a civil litigation attorney in order to determine the scope of your potential liability and merits of your potential defenses.


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