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Has someone wrongfully taken property from you or your business? Florida’s Civil Theft law may provide you some relief. The law states, in part:
Any person who proves by clear and convincing evidence that he or she has been injured in any fashion by reason of any violation of ss. 812.012-812.037 or s. 825.103(1) has a cause of action for threefold the actual damages sustained and, in any such action, is entitled to minimum damages in the amount of $200, and reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs in the trial and appellate courts.
Pursuant to this law, individuals and businesses can file civil theft lawsuits based on acts of:
The appeal of the civil theft law is the potential to recover three times your actual damages, plus attorney’s fees. However, suing and winning for civil theft is not easy — there are several legal hurdles to overcome before you can recoup anything.
First, before filing suit, you must make written demand. If the liable party pays the money within 30 days of receipt of the written demand (which should be sent by certified mail), that party is forgiven of liability.
Second, to state your case, you must present “clear and convincing evidence,” a heavier burden of persuasion than required by the “preponderance of the evidence” normally sufficient in civil cases, but less rigorous than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” required in criminal cases.
Third, a civil theft claim requires proof that the defendant possessed “felonious intent.” This means that the defendant acted with the purpose of taking the plaintiff’s money or property so that that plaintiff can’t have it or use it.
Finally, the maintenance of a civil theft claim between parties in a contractual relationship, especially one where the contract is being relied upon by a plaintiff to establish ownership (an element of civil theft), is especially difficult and is generally not permitted where the subject contract plainly encompasses the civil theft allegations. Under such circumstances, a plaintiff must allege and prove action beyond an independent of breach of contract that amounts to an independent tort. In other words, the alleged loss, which results from the alleged theft, must be separate and distinct from any loss alleged to have resulted from a breach of the contract. Stated differently, civil theft between parties in a contractual relationship should only stand where “a common-sense appreciation of the particular facts at hand. . . . render[s] the contract between the parties . . . entirely irrelevant . . . or . . . merely incidental” to the theft, such as where a “ [lease] explained how [a tenant] obtained access to the premises and property of [a landlord], but it did not contemplate” the ownership or removal of the landlord’s personal property. Leisure Founders, Inc. v. CUC Intern, Inc., 833 F. Supp 1562 (S.D. Fla. 1993); Nova Flight Ctr., Inc. v. Viega, 554 So. 2d 626 (Fla. 5th DCA 1989). Moreover, where the allegedly stolen property is also the subject of a contract between the parties, the plaintiff must prove an intricate sophisticated scheme of deceit and theft.
A civil theft claim that doesn’t meet the requisite legal criteria could result in, the plaintiff, paying legal fees and costs to the defendant. Therefore, let us help you weigh the facts of your case so you can decide whether filing a civil theft claim is worth it or how to best defend against such a claim. We are experienced business lawyers and can offer you the best ways to accomplish your objectives.