Caught Shoplifting at Six Flags Then You're Getting A Bill
I found this article particularly interesting.
Question: My 15-year-old son was caught shoplifting a $3.50 bag of candy at Six Flags New England in August. His season pass was revoked and he was banned from all Six flags properties for a year. I felt that all of these punitive measures were reasonable and justified. I also lectured him and punished him at home.
A couple of weeks later I got a letter from the law offices of Palmer, Reifler and Associates stating that under the state’s civil liability law I owed $252.59 in civil damages for the incident. I called them and told them I couldn’t pay.
They then sent me a letter saying I now owe them $500 and it must be paid within 10 days.
I called the law firm again and told them I would not pay the fine, and they asked me if I was prepared to go to court. In response, I said if that is my only alternative, I would have to go that route.
Frustrated with the law firm, I then contacted the Six Flags loss prevention office to plead my case. I spoke with Ricardo Rivera, and although very polite and sympathetic, he said they forward all incidents to this law firm, and then it is out of Six Flags’ control. Recently I received a third letter and have also received numerous phone calls demanding the $500 settlement.
None of these letters state that Six Flags is actually imposing the fine. They all say that if I do not pay, Six Flags may consider moving forward with its statutory civil damages claim.
My question is who can I contact to discuss this matter? Although my son was wrong in what he did, I feel the fine is excessive and unreasonable for the crime committed. If I do not pay, am I breaking the law?
Answer: You have stumbled into a growing, and controversial, aspect of the law, Arthur B. Leavens of Longmeadow, a professor of law at Western New England Law School said. State law makes shoplifters liable for a civil penalty of not less than $50 but not more than $500. It is a civil penalty that has nothing to do with a criminal conviction or a lack of one.
In order to collect, the Agawam amusement park or its law firm would have to sue you in court.
Six Flags spokeswoman Melissa Pinkerton declined to explain the company’s position in this matter:
“As a matter of policy, we do not publicly disclose our practices to address guests who choose to behave illegally or inappropriately in our parks,” Pinkerton said in an email.
A 2008 article in the Wall Street Journal indicated, however, at least at that time, that the law firm, which represents many retail operators, rarely did sue. In that story, a partner at Palmer, Reifler and Associates, based in Florida, was quoted as saying the firm sends out about 1.2 million demand letters, like the one you received, each year. The firm, at that time, filed fewer than 10 suits a year, according to the article.
Leavens said he can’t give you legal advice. But the question is clear.
“Will they sue me?” he said. “Or maybe they won’t bother because it costs more than $500 to sue someone.”
He also pointed out that by demanding $500, Palmer, Reifler and Associates is already asking for the maximum amount they can collect under state law even if they sued and won that suit.
“So I see absolutely no advantage to paying them $500,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal story went on to say that Palmer, Reifler and Associates kept 13 to 30 percent of what it collected on behalf of retailers. The Journal also reported a few examples of people who were cleared of any wrongdoing by the police yet found themselves getting demand letters anyway.
Source: The Republican Masschusetts