My local dry cleaner lost a pair of pants that go with my suit. It's only $160 but I feel like they should compensate me for the loss. So far, they have completely refused. Some of the possible actions I've considered taking are as follows:

  1. I've considered filing with small claims court, but I'm not sure if this is something that is done for $160 or not, or is even worth the other fees, etc. - Please advise.
  2. I've considered standing in front of the dry cleaners with a letter handout explaining the situation and warning other customers in an attempt to sway their patronage and convince the dry cleaners to pay me to get rid of me, but I'm not sure if this is legal. Is it?
  3. Is it a criminal offense for them to not do anything about it? Are they not responsible for the clothes they take to be cleaned?

UPDATE: Just got back from the dry cleaners in one more attempt before sending my letter of demand and what do ya' know! They had my pants. They didn't/wouldn't explain what happened. However, despite this being resolved without any further action, it was great to learn so much about what to do in this situation. Thanks to all who participated in the reclamation of my lost pants.

  • 10
    Use a prepaid lawyer to send them an official sounding serious letter, it can be a bluff. But include all their regulatory shortcomings to show that you/your lawyer knows how to make things more expensive than $160 for them, and then they'll think twice about not compensating you, "to make it go away"
    – CQM
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 14:10
  • 10
    @CQM What exactly do you mean by a prepaid lawyer? I;m not really familiar with how lawyers work, I've never used one before for anything.
    – GeoJohn
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 14:19
  • 3
    prepaid lawyers have cheap monthly fees ranging from $20-$35 and are available for contract evaluation, will creation, sending assertive letters, appearing if you get arrested, and more! Won't get five stars in competency, but it is a good start for most situations
    – CQM
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 16:14
  • 18
    When did the money stackexchange become the legal stackexchange? Are we allowed to ask any money-related legal questions (which is nearly all of them) here? Commented May 13, 2015 at 22:37
  • 4
    Congrats on getting the pants back! Glad it worked out.
    – Rocky
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 16:16

5 Answers 5


Do you have the claim ticket? I'll assume yes. Do a Google search for "Dry Cleaner Regulations for [state you live in]" and see if there is a regulatory agency because some states have them, although that might just be for environmental concerns. Worth a shot to call one and ask if they handle customer complaints.

Otherwise, the goal is to have them either find your pants or compensate you for the loss. I'd try one last time on the phone or in person. If that fails:

  1. Send them a nastygram in the mail demanding $160 by x date or you will pursue "further actions". Keep the letter short and sweet. You can use Google to find example demand letters.

  2. After they ignore the letter, file in small claims court. It will cost you ~$50 in filing fees which will be included in the judgement if you win.

  3. Go to court, explain why you feel they owe you $160. Bring the claim ticket, the matching suit jacket, and proof that replacing it will cost $160.

Step 4: win!

Or if that sounds like too much work, you can just write a nasty review on Yelp. You won't get your pants back but it'll feel good. I'd avoid the complaining to the BBB because they have no teeth and the dry cleaner is not obligated to respond to a BBB complaint.

Standing right outside their door handing out pamphlets might be a bad idea since it's likely private property and they'll make you leave. But you could always do the labor union thing and hold a "shame on the drycleaners for losing my pants!" sign out by the street or entrance to the parking lot. (That seems like a lot of effort, although it'll look great on your Facebook feed!)

  • 3
    Sounds like there's a good chance someone else got your pants and they just mixed up two orders. If so, the other party might return them and you can check up and get them back.
    – Rocky
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 15:50
  • 6
    I'd still write to BBB even if they "have no teeth". I've done that in the past and businesses have responded pretty quickly.
    – mikeazo
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 17:11

I really like Rocky's answer, some more info:

Keep in mind there is no limit on punitive damages. You could sue for the pants (160) + the filling fee (50) + a reasonable hourly rate to compensate your time (assume 200) + punitive damages of 4590 (assume 5000 limit on small claims court).

When facing a suit of 5000, it could be much cheaper to settle for 160. Keep in mind you don't have to take it. Once you file you may only settle for the pants plus filling fee. Once you actually get to court, you may only settle for the pants + filling fee + some time compensation.

If you have the claim ticket, you will win. The question becomes how much punitive damages could you also win? Filling fee, easy. The compensation for your time, very likely.

Once the owner is served a summons, they will probably go to a lawyer. The lawyer will tell them to settle ASAP. Use that to your advantage.

One thing you might be able to settle for is free dry cleaning. They might give you the $160, plus another $160 in free dry cleaning...if you are willing to use them again.

  • 14
    While there may be no formal limit, it would be to your advantage to avoid being too ridiculous in your punitive damage claim.
    – cpast
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 19:35
  • 6
    Do note though: No ticket = No win
    – Mast
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 20:07

Read the claim ticket or receipt for when you made the initial drop-off.

Every dry cleaning business that I've used in the USA has had a warning about damages or in case of loss. They always agree to reimburse up to a certain amount, usually $50 or $100 per item. This is standard in California, Arizona, New York and Florida, as best I can recall. You won't get the full amount, and you may or may not get the maximum, but the dry cleaner should give you some kind of cash recompense as a result of losing your clothing while they had it in their possession.

  • 1
    Strangely enough, I see nothing on the ticket about compensation for lost clothes. This is in Texas, btw.
    – GeoJohn
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 14:00
  • @GeoJohn Do you have a receipt or claim ticket from any other items you got cleaned at that dry cleaner? It is usually in tiny print on the reverse or the bottom of the slip. Commented May 14, 2015 at 14:32
  • I'm sure I have receipts somewhere, I would have to look for them. The only claim ticket I have is the one for the current situation.
    – GeoJohn
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 15:28
  • 1
    As far as I know (I am not a lawyer), a statement that is provided on a receipt that is given after the fact (after the service is performed) is not binding. The notice would have to be given before the pants were accepted by the cleaners. Commented May 16, 2015 at 15:48
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    @KevinFegan even if they say that upfront, i think there's a concept that means they have to take reasonable care of your property while its in their possession. Losing your property is likely to be considered unreasonable.
    – Andy
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 0:24

Figure out what you want

You are looking to be made whole, so the requests need to be reasonable. You need to be clear that you want:

  1. Your pants
  2. Enough money to simply buy a replacement pair of pants

You aren't going to 'punish' the dry cleaner or anything else. You don't want coupons or free service for future work, you want your pants or cash.

Send a letter

If you send a letter, send it certified with a return receipt. You want to be able to show a judge you made efforts outside of the court that you attempted to reconcile the issue. Sending it certified is also a good way to indicate to the dry cleaner that you aren't going to just go away. Be clear, firm and very polite. You cannot blame or criticize the cleaner, simply state "On YY/YY/YYYY date I didn't get my pants back; I want my pants or I want money by XX/XX/XXXX date."


If you want to picket, contact local law enforcement and find out the rules before picketing. You can probably picket from a sidewalk, but that doesn't mean the dry cleaner won't approach you and get in your personal space.

If you hand out flyers, stick strictly to provable facts lest you be sued for defamation. It is smarter to hand out a fact sheet or speak from a rehearsed script so that you don't say something that would be actionable. Make sure you pick the busiest day of the week for a dry cleaner. (Weekends?)

Small claims court

I don't think this is criminal, but you can sue. Like others said, if you have the cleaning ticket (and the ticket doesn't absolve the dry cleaner of responsibility) you will probably get a judgement. Be careful what you ask for, make sure you cover all of your costs (the pants, filing fees, time off of work, and collection efforts.) Itemize all your requested costs and make sure they are reasonable. You only want to be made whole, and that only means $160 or pants (plus fees)


Just because you won in small claims doesn't mean you can collect easily. Figure in your cost for collecting when you sue. You might have to hire somebody to collect on your judgement. If you hire somebody they will want a cut, so you might want to figure that out for your small claims. I am guessing this is a local business, so it should be pretty easy to collect. (Unless they go out of business, in which case you will get nothing.)


Dude, it's your lucky day! You just won the lottery!!

Do like this guy and sue them for $67 million :-)

Pearson v. Chung, better known as the "pants lawsuit",1 is a civil case filed in 2005 by Roy L. Pearson, Jr., an administrative law judge in the District of Columbia in the United States, following a dispute with a dry cleaning company over a lost pair of trousers.

Pearson filed suit against Soo Chung, Jin Nam Chung and Ki Y. Chung, the owners of Custom Cleaners in Washington, D.C., initially demanding $67 million for inconvenience, mental anguish and attorney's fees for representing himself, as a result of their failure, in Pearson's opinion, to live up to a "satisfaction guaranteed" sign that was displayed in the store.

The case drew international attention[2][3] when it went to trial in 2007 and has been held up as an example of frivolous litigation and the need for tort reform in the United States.

The entire story dragged on for years, with many appeals, and makes fascinating reading.

  • 6
    Since that guy did not get even close to $67m, and had to pay quite some court fees, and lost his $100k job over it, recommending to proceed like him is insane...
    – Alexander
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 9:14
  • 2
    I remember this one from the news! That was nuts. Oh, and I like humorous answers. +1.
    – Rocky
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 16:00
  • 1
    Apparently it was decided that an "administrative law judge" suing for $67 milion about a pair of lost pants is just not acceptable for that kind of job.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 17, 2015 at 19:58
  • Well, in his favor, he didn't want all of it for himself ... only $16 million :-)
    – Mawg
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 6:47

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