Using a Civil Lawsuit to Recover Stolen Money or Property
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While not all incidents of theft are prosecuted in the criminal system, Florida’s civil system has two causes of action that allow a person or entity to pursue the theft of either money or personal property. These two causes of action are Conversion and Civil Theft, and while they are similar in some regards, there are also stark differences that affect important aspects of a claim, such as the amount of damages available and a plaintiff’s burden of proof.
Civil Remedies for Criminal Practices
While the claim of conversion is governed by common law, civil theft is codified in Section 772.11, Florida Statutes (“the Statute”). Additionally, while both conversion and civil theft involve the unauthorized taking or control of another person’s property, conversion generally focuses on the act of interference with property rights of another, whereas civil theft specifically emphasizes the actual intent to deprive a rightful owner of their property. Most importantly, civil theft requires a heavier burden of proof and carries additional legal consequences and remedies, including the potential for treble damages (three times the actual damages).
Conversion refers to the wrongful exercise of control over someone else’s property without their permission or legal right. It involves interfering with the owner’s right to possess, use, or enjoy their property. There are four main elements of conversion: (1) the plaintiff has a right to possess specific money or property; (2) the defendant wrongfully took or used the money or property; (3) the plaintiff was deprived of the property or money or its use; and (4) the plaintiff suffered damages as a result of the deprivation. To note, conversion also includes the taking upon a mistaken belief that a person has a right of possession to money or property.
Civil theft is a statutory legal claim that allows a person to seek damages when someone else unlawfully takes their money or property with the actual intent to deprive another of their money or property. The Statute specifically states that if a person proves by clear and convincing evidence that he or she has been injured by another for civil theft, then a cause of action for threefold the actual damages may be recoverable, along with attorney’s fees and court costs. It’s important to note there are certain statutory requirements that must be met prior to filing a claim for civil theft, and while the recoverable damages for civil theft are higher than those for conversion, the burden of clear and convincing evidence is also higher than the burden required in a claim for conversion, which is preponderance of the evidence. Civil theft claims can arise in various contexts, such as employee theft, landlord-tenant disputes, and fraudulent schemes.
The right to be made whole after being deprived by another of your money or property does not just exist in the criminal justice system. Long-standing Florida law provides mechanisms to recover damages for what has been taken from you. The litigation attorneys at Jimerson Birr can help you navigate the law in this area and assist you in the pursuit of a claim for conversion and/or civil theft.