Do I have to pay a retail loss letter?

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Do I have to pay a retail loss letter?

My son was recently caught shoplifting. The merchandise was fully recovered. I have received a letter from a lawyer asking for $250. They are quoting CA penal code 490.5. Do I have to pay this money? It seems the penal code talks about fines imposed by the court and payable to the state.

Asked on June 27, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, California

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

In most cases when a person is arrested for shoplifting they will probably receive a letter from a lawyer stating that the person must pay a certain sum of money. Such a letter is known as a “civil demand letter". It is simply an attempt by the store to recover any losses it suffered as a result of the theft. These letters can be threatening and intimidating. They may demand that the person pay for the value of the item taken, the amount of any resulting damage, and/or the cost of security personnel.

CA Penal Code 490.5 govern these letters. This code section states that the shoplifter is liable only for paying for losses. For example, the cost of any damaged merchandise that the store would not be able to re-sell. Therefore, if it was able to recover the item it has not suffered any loss. As for covering the cost of store security, since they are paid a regular salary regardless of whether or not a theft occurs, this is a cost for which a shoplifter is not responsible.

Bottom line, it is highly unlikely that they would actually file suit. Consequently these letters can generally be ignored.  However, if the first letter is not responded to, a second will be sent, and for possibly an even higher amount.  If at that point the person decides to make payment, put this in a letter back to them. Do not speak with them directly. Additionally, only pay the true cost of their loss; no what they purport it is.  

Note: If your son was also arrested for this and you do choose to pay prior to his court appearance, be sure to keep proof of the payment.  In such cases the court may order restitution, so if you pay the amount requested in the civil demand letter, you can prove that no additional restitution is owed.


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