How should one respond to a civil demand letter from Macy's or any retailer for that matter?
I've been receiving civil demand letters and threatening phone calls from Macy's regarding a shoplifting incident that occurred last month. They want $500 which I am unable and unwilling to pay, especially since the criminal charges regarding the matter was dismissed in court due to a lack of evidence. Should I just ignore the calls and letters or should I respond requesting that they stop contacting me and to get a hobby?
If you have beaten the criminal charges, this is a good start for you being able to beat the civil case.
Even though the standard of evidence in civil (more likely than not) is less than criminal standard (beyond reasonable doubt) your win in the criminal case trial for lack of evidence to prove prosecution case means a civil case is far less likely.
Here is my standard answer to one of the most frequently asked questions here on Avvo:
There is a law in the state of Illinois which allows for civil action collection when there is a retail theft. Most people choose to ignore the demand. This demand is for money over and above any fine you pay in compliance with a court order. People may get a few more letters, each time asking for more, and then they stop. While the retailer can sue you, it is extremely rare for anyone to actually be sued. You do not owe any money unless you are sued and the retailer wins. This is a common ploy. Do not pay. If you do, you will be in a database which could affect your ability to get a job and could impact your life in other ways. If you are uncomfortable, hire a lawyer and have the lawyer write a letter. That should be the end of it.
I am in agreement with the answers that you have received. One note, I usually send a denial letter within 30 days for the purpose of preserving your credit report. Otherwise, the odds of you getting sued are less than 1%.
The letters you have received from the store's lawyers are sent pursuant to an Illinois statute that permits them to pursue these claims. Having a lawyer issue a claim denial letter supported by legal authortiy in your defense is the best way to get them to back off; they will no longer be allowed to write or call you directly after that and are far less likely to actually pursue the claim further. The odds that they will not sue are in your favor, but be aware that the state's failure to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt does not preclude your being found liable in a civil case, as the burden of proof is much lower.
If you ignore it, they will likely continue sending demand letters, sometimes demanding an even higher amount each time under the guise of "attorney's fees." If you completely ignore them, you could risk having a judgment entered against you for an amount up to $1,000 in excess of the value of the merchandise PLUS attorney's fees and court costs if suit is filed. The Illinois statute actually REQUIRES you to pay their attorney's fees and court costs if they prevail. If you pay the demand, you are likely paying a claim that can be defended for a lot less money. Additionally, paying the demand will get you listed in a database retailers use to bar people from obtaining future employment.
You may get away with ignoring them, but in my opinion, there's a better, more cost-effective way to deal with this than either paying the demand or ignoring it. Free consultation is available. www.galivanlaw.net
Most attorneys in AVVO suggest ignoring civil demand letters. Stores do not usually spend what it takes to sue, and if they have their merchandize back, you are square with them. Eventually, thieves do get convicted, and their life suffers considerably.
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You may be sued, but it is highly unlikely. I have yet to see such a suit.
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There may very well be merit to your defense or position in this type of situation. However, there are hardly sufficient details for an attorney to provide you with some path to follow. It is imperative that ALL of the facts in a particular situation be examined. No conclusion can be drawn from the communication that you have provided.
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I generally advise clients to ignore these civil demand letters. You don't owe them anything. In order for you to owe them something they would have to sue you, (in some jurisdictions prove damages which they most likely couldn't do), and win. Even if they could win, the cost of pursuing this is substantially greater than any amount they can possibly recover so they usually don't. They send out these letters because it doesn't cost much and they are hoping that you don't know better and simply send them the money. Nothing will happen to you if you don't pay it. Take a look at an article in the Wall Street Journal at the link provided below.