My Business Partner Stole from the Company. Now what?

Your business partner stole money from the company for her personal use. An employee emails confidential company information to his personal email so he can use it to start a competing company. A competitor hires away an employee and uses confidential company information stolen by the employee. The company bookkeeper intentionally issues additional paychecks in his name they haven’t earned.

Among other claims, these situations may give rise to a civil theft claim under Colorado law (besides potential criminal implications). If the person intends to commit a theft and there was value in what is taken, C.R.S. §18-4-405 provides for a lawsuit for a claim of civil theft. Even if they didn’t steal the property, someone who comes into possession of the stolen property is also liable under the statute.

The significance of Colorado’s civil theft statute is that it is punitive and not remedial. This means that if the actions of a defendant constituted civil theft, the plaintiff is entitled to:

  1. Triple the value of the property taken;
  2. Costs of the lawsuit; and
  3. Attorney’s fees incurred in pursing the civil theft claim.

In Bermel v. BlueRadios, Inc., the Colorado Supreme Court recently clarified that a civil theft claim can be pled even if the parties had a contract between them and the damages suffered were only economic. Usually, parties must pursue a breach of contract claim when there is a contract between them and may not resort to tort remedies (this is called the economic-loss rule). However, a plaintiff can plead a civil theft claim besides a breach of contract claim.

Colorado’s civil theft statute can be a powerful weapon (and, unlike Florida, a pre-suit demand is not required before suing for civil theft in Colorado).