Are stores allowed to have minor sign something without a parent/guardian present?

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Are stores allowed to have minor sign something without a parent/guardian present?

My 16 minor child was with someone that was caught shoplifting. My daughter was not, she had nothing. However, the store had her sign something without me there or her father. Now, we get a letter saying that we owe them $250.00 in a civil claim. The store never called us, nor notified us. Is this legal??

Asked on June 16, 2009 under Criminal Law, Illinois

Answers:

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

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

In my experience, these letters are generally scams.  What happens is that the corporation that is the alleged victim of theft sends a list of all accused shoplifters to a law firm, who then tries to collect an amount of money (in this case, $250).  Many people, especially those who are embarassed by their arrest for shoplifting, simply write the check in the interest of putting the matter behind them.  This means that the law firm can collect $250 simply by writing a letter.  Not a bad business model, right?  Here is where it breaks down:  First, the lawyer that has sent the letter demanding the money probably is not licensed to practice law in your state.  You should confirm this.  If that is the case, he has not right instituting a civil action to collect the money, thereby negating his ability to collect, in addition to making his actions borderline unethical.  Moreover, even if the attorney is technically able to collect, it does not make sense, from a financial perspective, for him to try to do so.  Given the fact that most attorneys charge at least $250 per hour, once the attorney has to spend more than one hour collecting the money it becomes a loss.  Therefore, generally speaking, if the attorney's initial letter is not successful it is unlikely that the matter will be pursued any further.  Nevertheless, if you feel that you may be civily liable, I recommend discussing this letter, in detail, with an attorney at your convenience.


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