Do I have to pay a civil claim?

UPDATED: Jun 25, 2012

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Do I have to pay a civil claim?

I stole a $10 wallet. The police weren’t called,but the manager of the store took down my name, address, and phone number. I signed a page stating that I couldn’t go in any of their stores for 3 years. About a month later, I got a civil claim letter saying they want me to pay them $350 within 20 days of the date of the letter. I heard from some people that I don’t need to pay the civil demand. Is this true or do I absolutely have to pay it?

Asked on June 25, 2012 under Bankruptcy Law, California


Cameron Norris, Esq. / Law Office of Gary W. Norris

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Whenever a person commits, or attempts to commit a theft, that action may be considered both a crime and a civil tort. The retailer may request the state to file criminal charges and/or it may choose to take civil action seeking damages. This civil action is separate from and independent of any criminal action that may or may not have been taken. Regardless of the outcome of the criminal matter, if any, the retailer may still make a common law civil damages request.

This civil action is designed to work as a deterrent to future theft as well as to shift the tremendous cost of theft and the resulting security costs from the honest consumer (through higher retail prices) to the offenders who are creating the problem. The amount demanded by the business establishment for this civil action is not to compensate for the item, which may or may not have left the store, but for the act committed against the store. Whether the item was or was not damaged, or whether or not it was returned to the store has little, if any bearing on the demand amount. In your case, it sounds like the retailer did not choose to have the state file criminal charges against you in addition to pursuing the matter civilly.

The retailer can sue in court for their civil damages and then get a judgment.  Then we they have this judgment, they can collect on that judgment by levying bank accounts, assets etc. 

Their letter is a threat.  I would simply send a reply letter stating that you disagree with their version of events, that it was a misunderstanding, that you will comply by not re-visitng their stores, but refuse to pay the civil demand.

See what happens.  If they sue, then you might eventually have to pay it, but they probably won't spend a bunch of money suing over $350 for a ten dollar wallet.


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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