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Trespass to Chattels vs. Conversion

If someone wrongfully took your personal property, you may be able to bring an intentional torts claim against the person. But which type of tort would be a valid cause of action? Both trespass to chattels and conversion deal with wrongfully interfering with a person's personal property. Although they are similar in a way, there are significant differences that you should know before filing a lawsuit. Read on to learn about the similarities and differences between trespass to chattels and conversion.

What Are Trespass to Chattels and Conversion?

Trespass to chattels and conversion are both intentional torts that refer to a wrongful, intentional interference with the possession of someone's personal property. Trespass to chattels and conversion deal only with personal property. They do not apply to the interference of real property or any interest in land.

Both trespass to chattels and conversion are general intent torts. As opposed to specific intent torts, general intent torts do not consider whether the tortfeasor knew his or her conduct would result in the specific harm. As a result, mistake of ownership is not a valid defense to trespass to chattels and conversion.

Difference Between Trespass to Chattels and Conversion

It's often easy to confuse trespass to chattels with conversion because they both deal with interfering personal property. Here's a look at the differences between the two torts:

The Degree of Interference

The main difference between trespass to chattels and conversion is the degree of interference. Conversion occurs when a person uses or alters a piece of personal property belonging to someone else without the owner's consent. The degree of interference for conversion must be so serious that the tortfeasor, or person accused of committing the tort, may be required to pay the full value of the property.

According to the Restatement (Second) of Torts, the court may consider the following factors to determine the seriousness of the interference in a conversion case:

  1. The extent and duration of the tortfeasor's exercise of dominion or control
  2. The tortfeasor's intent to deprive the owner on possession
  3. The tortfeasor's good faith
  4. The extent and duration of the resulting interference with the other's right of control
  5. The harm done to the chattel
  6. The inconvenience and expense caused

 

On the other hand, a trespass to chattels is an act that falls short of conversion. The tortfeasor is responsible only to the extent of the damage done (not the full value of the property) from dispossessing another of the chattel, using or intermeddling with a chattel in the possession of another, or damaging the chattel.

Elements of Trespass to Chattels and Conversion

Proving trespass to chattels and conversion involve the following elements: (1) the plaintiff owns or has the right to possess the personal property at issue; (2) the tortfeasor intentionally interfered with the plaintiff's property; (3) the tortfeasor deprived the plaintiff of possession or use of the property at issue; and (4) the interference caused damages to the plaintiff.

Remedies: Trespass to Chattels vs. Conversion

As mentioned above, an ordinary conversion case will require the tortfeasor to pay the full market value of the property to its owner. If the owner is not fully deprived of the property, and it can be returned to the owner, the tortfeasor would be liable for the actual damage, which is the usual remedy for trespass to chattels. As opposed to paying the full value of the property, the tortfeasor will pay the diminished value of the chattel.

Get a Free Review of Your Conversion or Trespass to Chattels Claim

Differentiating trespass to chattels and conversion and applying the relevant elements to a case can be difficult. Professional legal knowledge and skills are often key to evaluating an intentional tort claim. Start working on your case by getting a free claim evaluation from an experienced attorney in your area.

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