Question: I have received a letter from an attorney demanding money after my child (or myself) was accused of shoplifting. Do I really owe this money?
Answer: Maybe.California Penal Code section 490.5 states "The parent or legal guardian having control or custody of an unemancipated minor whose conduct violates this subdivision shall be jointly and severally liable with the minor to a merchant or to a library facility for damages of not less than fifty dollars ($50) nor more than five hundred dollars ($500), plus costs."
But does this mean you are automatically on the hook? No. Many companies will have an out of state law firm, typically in Florida, send a demand letter for $500. Sometimes the letter is for more claiming additional "costs." This works out well for the retailer because it is hard for an individual to find an attorney willing to help for less than $500. So it becomes a situation where it is cheaper to pay these folks to go away then it is to hire an attorney and fight it.
If you receive one of these letters, you should look for an attorney to consult with. I offer free consultations on this issue of restitution. Call me or email me and we can talk about the letter and your rights.