Why did I get a letter from Wal-Mart demanding that I pay them $350?
When a person is arrested for theft or shoplifting in Fort Worth and comes to consult with one of our Fort Worth criminal defense attorneys, one of the most common issues we’re asked about is what to do about a civil demand letter.
What is a civil demand letter?
When a person is arrested for shoplifting, many times the larger retailers will follow up the arrest with a civil demand letter. These letters demand payment of a civil penalty to the retailer. Typically, these letters will be sent directly from the store, a law firm or debt collector and they usually ask for between $200.00 – $400.00 (regardless of the amount that was stolen). The key to remember is that this is civil demand and is separate from the criminal case. What happens with the civil demand letter will have no bearing on the criminal case.
Should I pay Wal-Mart on the demand letter?
Your options when you receive a dmeand letter after an arrest for theft are:
- Pay the penalty if you want to stop the letters from being sent, or
- Don’t pay and force them to sue if they choose to.
Technically, the amount that the store is demanding is not owed but is something the store feels like it could sue for. What’s important to remember is that for a store to sue a shoplifter for these types of damages, they would have to pursue their cause of action under the Texas Theft Liability Act.
What if the store recovered the property on the scene?
Under this act, a person may be liable for damages resulting from the theft. But, the act specifically states that a store may only recover the amount of actual damages sustained not to exceed $1000.00. The key term here is “actual damages.” In the majority of shoplifting cases, the property being stolen is recovered. In that case, there would be no “actual damages” because the store has not suffered any true loss. If so, the store would not be able to prove that they’ve suffered any actual damages and would not be able to recover a judgment.
So, whether or not they would be successful in a lawsuit is one issue. Another is whether the retailer feels like expending the fees to bring a suit is even worth it if even the most they could recover would be $1000.00. I have yet to have a client (and have yet to speak with any other attorneys with clients) who has received one of these letters being actually sued by one of these retailers – regardless of whether they pay or not.
Ultimately, whether you pay a retailer after receiving one of these civil demand letters is up to you. But, don’t expect the trial of the century if you don’t.
Contact our Fort Worth Theft Defense Attorneys if You Have Received a Civil Demand Letter
Our criminal defense attorneys, with offices in Fort Worth, Keller, and Grapevine, are experienced in all types of theft cases in Tarrant County. Contact us today for a FREE consultation at (817) 993-9249.