In Florida under the treble damage law if you have been arrested or charged with the crime of theft or exploitation of the elderly, you can potentially be subjected to what are called “treble damages”, which means triple damages. The law is contained in Florida Statute 772.11, and even though it has been slightly modified over the years, remains essentially the same as it existed when I began practicing law as a prosecutor back in 1991.
The Florida treble damage law mentioned only applies to cases involving theft and exploitation of the elderly. It gives the victim of the alleged crime the possibility of suing in civil court because of the crime, and if successful, collecting damages in an amount no less than $200, plus reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs. Florida has set a minimum potential recovery amount of $200, which means that on those theft cases where the amount of property taken was relatively inexpensive, the victim of the property loss could be entitled to at least $200 in damages. The treble damage provision becomes relevant when the amount of the property loss reaches at least $67, since the prevailing victim can have the court triple the damages, leading to a very large potential debt and court judgment.
How Does the Florida Treble Damage Law Apply to My Theft Case?
As a defense lawyer probably the most common scenario I have experienced involving the Florida treble damage law are cases of theft with Florida retailers such as Walmart, Publix, and Target, just to name a few. A typical example occurs after the person is detained by the store loss prevention officer, and later either arrested or given a notice to appear for court on the theft charge. A short time after the arrest, the accused receives a letter from the retailer, or a law firm representing the retailer. That letter is often referred to as a “demand letter”, and is a formal request for damages under the treble damage statute. The letter will give the person accused of theft an opportunity to settle the civil case within 30 days by paying a fee to settle the civil claim. If the accused pays the amount requested, the retailer or law firm will then issue a written release of liability, ending the civil part of the case.
The biggest misconception a person can make in this situation is believing that by paying this money the court case will go away. That is completely incorrect. When an individual is charged with theft or exploitation of the elderly, these are criminal offenses, either misdemeanor or felony charges. The payment only deals with the civil side of the case, and has absolutely no impact on the criminal charge. The State Attorney’s Office, which is the prosecuting agency on criminal cases, has no relationship with the retailers or law firms who send the demand letters, and are not obligated to dismiss the charges because the civil side of the case was resolved out of court. There will still be court dates, penalties if a plea is entered, and the right to a jury trial if requested under Florida law.
If you have received a letter from a retailer or law firm demanding payment under the treble damage statute, I will be more than happy to speak with you at no charge about your options and my own experiences in dealing with this issue. My law office offers a free consultation on your case by calling me at (941) 954-5333.