While theft has always been a criminal offense, minimal penalties for theft offered a plaintiff few options to recover damages which resulted from theft. That situation changed in the 1980s when chapter 31 of the Texas Penal Code defined the Texas Theft Liability Act. Thanks to the TLA, a plaintiff can now hold the defendant accountable for damages resulting from theft of property and theft of service. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 134.001-134.005.
Basic Elements of the TLA
Four key elements must be proven for this cause of action:
- The plaintiff owns the property or provides the service that has been appropriated.
- The defendant uses those goods or services unlawfully.
- The defendant acts intentionally, unlawfully, and does not compensate the plaintiff.
- The plaintiff suffers damages as a direct result of the defendant’s actions.
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 134.002-005; Tex. Pen Code §31.03-04.
Theft of Property and Service
To prove theft of property, the plaintiff must prove the following: the defendant withheld the property permanently or until there is a significant loss in value and use of the property; the defendant exchanged the property for ransom; the defendant makes recovering the property unlikely.
If the defendant acquires services through deception or by threat, she or he is guilty of theft of service. This term also applies to diverting services to someone who is not entitled to them. Texas Penal Code 31 provides a complete list of TLA claims.
Successfully proving that the defendant is liable for theft means that the plaintiff may be eligible for actual damages, exemplary damages, court costs, attorney fees, and more. However, if unsuccessful, the plaintiff may then be liable for the defendant’s costs.
The Texas Theft Liability Act is a powerful weapon for someone who has suffered theft of some kind. Consulting a lawyer with expertise in TLA claims will help when dealing with navigating this potentially thorny litigation.
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