What to do if my ex-girlfriend gave me a laptop as a present and 5 months later took it back and pawned it?

She said in a text that I saved that it had my files on it. I’m a web developer and had several websites almost completed valued at around 7k and backed up my work files so I could work at home for my job. I’m taking her to small claims court next week.

Asked on June 12, 2012 under Bankruptcy Law, California


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

A gift once given cannot be ungiven--that is, if something is given as an unconditional gift (not a loan, not a sale or purchase--even one over time--no expectation of return, etc.), the giver has no more right to it and cannot recover the item. Therefore, if the laptop was unconditionally gifted to you, it was your laptop, and she stole it. You could therefore sue her for the value of the computer and the software on it; it is not clear that you can recover the value of the websites, since that is essentially the value of your time (i.e. you could recreate the websites) and that is not always recoverable--still it would be worthwhile to try.

Even if she testifies that the computer was only a loan and the court believes her, you could still recover the value of software you put on it and possibly the value of your websites, so again, it is worth claiming for those things, too. The theory in this case (if the court believes her that the computer was hers, not yours) would be that she negligently destroyed or otherwise disposed of property of yours (software, files)  in the course of taking back her laptop.

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