Skip to Content
Menu Toggle

What is civil theft?

In Florida, “civil theft” typically refers to a cause of action allowing a person to recover damages for the unauthorized taking of their property by another person intending to deprive them of it. This cause of action is separate from criminal theft, which involves prosecuting a person for theft under the state’s criminal laws.

It’s important to note that a civil theft action is a separate legal proceeding from a criminal theft case, and the standard of proof differs. In a civil theft case, the plaintiff must prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means that it is more likely than not that the defendant took the property without the plaintiff’s consent.

Need help with a potential civil theft situation? Schedule your consultation today with a top business litigation attorney.

What legal issues typically arise related to civil theft?

The following disputes are among the most common to civil theft:

  • Intent: To prove a civil theft case, the plaintiff must show that the defendant intended to take the property for their use. Intent can be complex, and the defendant may argue that they believe they had a right to take the property. The plaintiff can prove this by providing documentation or witness testimony showing the defendant’s intent.
  • Ownership or right of possession: The defendant may dispute that the plaintiff had the right to possession of the property.
  • Evidence: The plaintiff must provide evidence in support of each of the elements of their claim. Witness testimony, documentation, and other evidence are often necessary to show the defendant took the property without permission or authorization.
  • Damages: If the plaintiff successfully proves their case, the court may award monetary damages to compensate for their losses. The parties may disagree on the value of the property taken, which can affect the damages awarded to the plaintiff.
  • Statute of limitations: The defendant may contend that the plaintiff did not file the lawsuit within the five-year statute of limitations.

What are relevant laws related to civil theft in Florida?

The Florida Statute that directly addresses civil theft is Section 772.11, which dictates that when the plaintiff sues under this rule, they are entitled to the monetary equivalent of damage sustained. Therefore, the plaintiff is entitled to receive either (1) $200 or, if the item was less than $200, (2) three times the value of the item stolen, plus attorneys’ fees and court costs. The statute also clarifies that the plaintiff must first make a written demand to the defendant requesting the amount owed before the plaintiff can sue.

Further, Section 812.014 addresses elements (listed in the next section) required to prove a civil theft claim. The standard of proof necessary for civil intent is clear and convincing evidence. Bailey v. Covington, 46 Fla.L.Weekly D776a (Fla. 3d DCA 2021).

A critical Florida Supreme Court case, Starr Tyme, Inc. v. Cohen, indicated that in certain circumstances, a defendant found guilty of criminal theft cannot defend against a civil theft claim relating to the same conduct. Starr Tyme, Inc. v. Cohen, 659 So.2d 1064 (Fla. 1995).

What is required to prove a case of civil theft in Florida?

To prove a case of civil theft, the plaintiff must show that:

  • The defendant knowingly;
  • Obtained or used, or endeavored to obtain or use, the plaintiff’s property;
  • With felonious intent;
  • Either permanently or temporarily to (1) deprive the plaintiff of their right to benefit from the property or (2) appropriate the property to the defendant’s use or the use of any person not entitled to the use of the property.

When a set of facts is appropriate to meet the requirements of civil theft, there are many paths a claimant may take. We are value-based attorneys at Jimerson Birr, which means we look at each action with our clients from the point of view of costs and benefits while reducing liability. Then, based on our client’s objectives, we chart a path forward to seek appropriate remedies, such as:

  • Monetary damages: The court can award a minimum of $200 to compensate the plaintiff for the theft.
  • Restitution: The court may order the defendant to return the stolen property to the plaintiff.
  • Injunctive Relief: The court could issue an injunction ordering the defendant to stop engaging in specific actions, such as continuing to possess the stolen property.
  • Attorneys’ Fees and Costs

To see what actions may be available for your unique situation, please contact our office to set up your initial consultation.

What are common defenses to civil theft in Florida?

The primary defenses to civil theft in Florida include the following:

  • Lack of intent: The defendant may assert that they did not intend to steal the property and that the taking was accidental or not done to take it for their use.
  • Right to possession: The defendant could contend that they had a right to possess the property, either because they owned it or because the defendant had permission from the owner.
  • Statute of limitations: The defendant could claim that the action commenced after the statute of limitation period expired, five years in Florida.
  • Mistake: The defendant might maintain that they believed they had a right to take the property and did so without realizing somebody else stole it.

To see what defenses may be available for your unique situation, please contact our office to set up your initial consultation.

Have more questions about a civil theft-related situation?

Crucially, this overview of civil theft does not begin to cover all the laws implicated by this issue or the factors that may compel the application of such laws. Every case is unique, and the laws can produce different outcomes depending on the individual circumstances.

Jimerson Birr attorneys guide our clients to help make informed decisions while ensuring their rights are respected and protected. Our lawyers are highly trained and experienced in the nuances of the law, so they can accurately interpret statutes and case law and holistically prepare individuals or companies for their legal endeavors. Through this intense personal investment and advocacy, our lawyers will help resolve the issue’s complicated legal problems efficiently and effectively.

Having a Jimerson Birr attorney on your side means securing a team of seasoned, multi-dimensional, cross-functional legal professionals. Whether it is a transaction, an operational issue, a regulatory challenge, or a contested legal predicament that may require court intervention, we remain a tireless advocate at every step. Being a value-added law firm means putting the client at the forefront of everything we do. We use our experience to help our clients navigate even the most complex problems and come out the other side triumphant.

If you want to understand your case, the merits of your claim or defense, potential monetary awards, or the amount of exposure you face, you should speak with a qualified Jimerson Birr lawyer. Our experienced team of attorneys is here to help. Call Jimerson Birr at (904) 389-0050 or use the contact form to set up a consultation.

Jimerson Customer Service

We live by our 7 Superior Service Commitments

  • Conferring Client-Defined Value
  • Efficient and Cost-Effective
  • Accessibility
  • Delivering an Experience While Delivering Results
  • Meaningful and Enduring Partnership
  • Exceptional Communication Based Upon Listening
  • Accountability to Goals
Learn more
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
Jimersonfirm Awards
we’re here to help

Contact Us

Jimerson Birr