As a small business owner, can another business come at me criminally for unpaid debt?

We are a DBA handling HVAC work. We had to special order an ac system for a client. Upon

ordering, we tried to pay for the unit and at that time the company would not accept payment.

The unit was delivered to us and we installed it at our client’s house. We received a bill just

after being in a car accident that put us out of work for several weeks. We contacted the

company to explain what happened and asked to make payments on the unit. The owner

stated he would only accept payment from us in full, no partial payments would be accepted.

The other day we received a certified letter from the company stating that if we did not pay in full, the case would be handed over to the district attorney for attempting to defraud them. We never tried to defraud them, we tried to pay in full at the time the unit was ordered and then

tried to make a payment on the debt. All of that was denied at the time we offered. They sent a

letter to one of our clients that has nothing to do with this and demanded payment as well as

say if they did not pay, charges would be brought against them as well. Our family members received letters from this company too. It says our name and address but on the front of the envelope it has the family members address. So are they able to submit charges criminally against us for the debt and contact family members/clients that are in no way involved?

Asked on August 20, 2016 under Business Law, Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Basee on what you write, there was no criminal intent ("mens rea")--and without a criminal intent (such as to take sometihng without ever paying for it), there is no crime. You write you tried to pay in the beginning, and they would not then accept it; and after that, you offered to pay over time, and they would not agree. That is not consistent with criminal intent. You may still be sued by the supplier, of course--they are not required to agree to payment over time, but can insist on payiment in full--but that is a different matter. If they are at all smart, they will agree to settle with you--that is in everyone's interest, rather than going to the trouble, time, and cost of litigation--but they are allowed to be stupid and take this to trial.
There is no basis for asserting any causes of action, criminal or civil, against clients or family members who are not involved in this.


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