What is Florida’s Civil Theft Statute?

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Florida’s civil theft statute, Fla. Stat. § 772.11, creates civil liability for certain criminal practices. In order for the statute to be applicable, the criminal act must violate Sections 812.012-812.037 or 825.103(1) of the Florida Statutes, which include crimes such as: theft, possession of altered property, dealing in stolen property, and exploitation of an elderly person. Even if one of the specified crimes has occurred, it is still necessary to fully understand the intricacies and nuances of Florida’s civil theft statute before filing a lawsuit.

Unlike most civil actions, for which the standard of proof is preponderance of the evidence, a civil theft action requires the heightened standard of clear and convincing evidence. This standard requires the plaintiff to establish that the evidence presented is precise and produces a firm belief as to the truth of the allegations.

What elements must be established in a civil theft action?

In order to establish a prima facie case under Florida’s civil theft statute, the following elements must be alleged. The plaintiff must allege that the defendant (1) knowingly; (2) obtained or used, or sought to obtain or use, the plaintiff’s property; (3) with felonious intent; (4) to deprive the plaintiff of its right to or a benefit from the property. Felonious intent is the conscious intent to steal that which does not belong to the taker. If all four elements are present, the plaintiff has established an action for civil theft.

What steps must be taken in a civil theft action?

Even if a plaintiff may successfully establish a prima facie case for civil theft, Florida law requires a plaintiff to follow a series of preliminary steps. Prior to filing a lawsuit, the individual claiming injury must make a written demand for $200 or the treble damage amount of the claim. Treble damages allow for an award of up to three times the amount of damages claimed. If the person to whom the demand is made complies with the demand within 30 days, they shall be given a written release indicating that they are absolved from any further civil liability.

What damages are available in a civil theft action?

If a plaintiff succeeds in an action for a civil theft, they are entitled to minimum damages in the amount of $200, and reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs in the trial and appellate courts. The statute does not, however, provide for punitive damages. Importantly, if the court finds that the plaintiff filed a claim that lacked substantial factual or legal support, the defendant may recover reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs in the trial and appellate courts.

EPGD Business Law is located in beautiful Coral Gables, West Palm Beach and historic Washington D.C. Call us at (786) 837-6787, or contact us through the website to schedule a consultation.

*Disclaimer: this blog post is not intended to be legal advice. We highly recommend speaking to an attorney if you have any legal concerns. Contacting us through our website does not establish an attorney-client relationship.*

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