By Dallas and Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
Retailers have made it a habit of sending letters threatening lawsuits under the Texas Theft Liability Act to people that were arrested in their store for the suspicion of shoplifting. It is important to first understand that any civil action or demand is completely and wholly separate from your criminal case. Their letter is no different than a private party trying to settle a lawsuit out of court.
People often have the mistaken idea that giving in and paying the money has a bearing on the criminal prosecution one way or another. There is no connection between the cases… in fact, if the letter were to threaten criminal prosecution of any sort in exchange for a civil settlement — then the retailer could be prosecuted themselves for extortion!
The Texas Theft Liability Act is a civil statute which may allow for the companies to sue someone in civil court for money losses (Tex.Civ.Prac.&Rem.C. Chapter 134). Section 134.003 says, “a person who commits theft is liable for the damages resulting from the theft.” Section 134.005(a)(1) holds that the damages they could win in court are, “the amount of actual damages found by the trier of fact and, in addition to actual damages awarded by the trier of fact in a sum not to exceed $1,000.”
The problem the retailers usually have with being successful in this claim is that in shoplifting cases — the items alleged to have stolen are virtually always recovered. Therefore, a retailer cannot honestly say they’ve suffered any damages “resulting from the theft.” Some will argue that the fact they have to hire loss prevention personnel are damages… but they’re not damages that resulted from THE theft in question.
Finally, Section 134.005(b) states, “Each person who prevails in a suit under this chapter shall be awarded court costs and reasonable and necessary attorney fees.” This can be interpreted to be a “loser pays” provision. Meaning the store comes to court and loses — they pay for your lawyer.
If you’ve been arrested for shoplifting and you get a letter from a retailer — at the very least talk with a lawyer about your rights and whether it’s a good idea to pay their demand.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and licensed by the Supreme Court of Texas. Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice. For any legal advice about any specific situation you should directly consult an attorney licensed in your state.