What legal action canI take ifmy extook my computer and will not let me retrieve valuable files that are on it?

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What legal action canI take ifmy extook my computer and will not let me retrieve valuable files that are on it?

My ex-girlfriend of 15 years who I lived with took our computer containing personal information and files that are valuable to me. Some of these files on the computer contain personal information as well as person photographs, and music I had recorded as a musician over the past 10 years. I have made numerous efforts asking her via voicemail and e-mail if she will help me retrieve my files and I have gotten no answers. I live in IL and she now lives in CA. I need to recover those files. 

Asked on July 29, 2010 under Business Law, Illinois


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 13 years ago | Contributor

Whose computer was it--i.e. not who used it, but who purchased it, and for whom?

If you bought it for yourself or she bought it for  you as a gift, so it's unequivocally yours, you could sue for its return or value, or possibly even report her to the police--theft.

If she bought it for herself  or you bought it for her as a gift, the computer itself is hers. *Possibly* you could sue for the return of the files, but that is apt to be a very expensive proposition. You could also possibly sue for the replacement cost of any software you put on the machine, or any files you purchased. However, the law does not recognize sentimental value or "sweat value" of computer files, so even if there are photos on the computer or your music, you really can't get much, if anything, for them.

If the computer was jointly bought and owned, you have a 1/2 stake in the computer and could possibly sue for 1/2 its current value, plus the software/file value, as above.

So at the end of the day: unless it was competely and provably your computer, there is little you can do. You can possibly go to court and sue for an order requiring that files be returned to you, but that can be very expensive; and if in the meantime, she "accidentally" erased or deleted them, there is little liability.

Going forward, always back up valuable information.

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 AttorneyPages.com 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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