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19 Jan

TORT 1.7B TORT OF CONVERSION

CONVERSION

The wilful, unlawful and unjustified interference with the chattel of another thus depriving the plaintiff of his right to use, possess and enjoy his property.

In criminal law, it is called theft.

May take many forms or means like taking, (wilful) wrongful delivery, transfer, disposal, destruction, and so on. See North Central Wagon and Finance Company Limited v. Graham where a man got a vehicle on hire purchase and sold it in contravention of the hire purchase agreement, the court held that the act amounted to conversion. See also Consolidated Company Ltd v. Curtis and Sons, Hollins V. fowler.

A question may arise where the item/goods/property is lost but found. The case of Parker V. British Airways Board laid down some rules in this regard. In this case;

A passenger handed over a lost gold bracelet which he found lying around on the lounge, to the British Airways Board on the condition that it be returned to him if the real owner was not found. Later, the defendants sold the unclaimed bracelet for 850 pounds. Parker sued them challenging their claim to the bracelet. It was held that parker had a better title to the goods than the defendants. The court also held that, despite the fact that the bracelet was found on the property of the defendants, it was found in public because there was much activity by passengers in that area.

The finders rule was thus laid down by the court. The principles include;

  • No right is acquired unless the item in question is lost/abandoned. Once found, the finder has right over everyone else but the real owner. In Armory v. Delamirie, a chimney sweeps boy found a jewel and gave it to a jeweler for valuation. The jeweler refused to return the jewelry to him. The court held that a finder of a property has right over everyone but the true owner over the property.
  • An employee that finds a lost item in the course of his employment, does so on behalf of his employer (unless there is an agreement to the contrary).
  • An occupier of a land or a building where the lost property was attached, has superior right over those of the finder. But does not have a better right over true owner[1]. See South Staffordshire Water Company v. Sharman.
  • The court further advocated that; the finder should take reasonable steps to locate the owner.

In Chukwuka v. CFAO Motors ltd; The plaintiff sent his car to the defendant motor company for repairs. He failed to claim the car after 9 months. The defendants then sold it to a third party. It was held that they were liable for conversion.

See Erivo v. Obi, Ashby v. Tolhurst.

[1] To be an occupier, one must have been residing or manifested an intention to have control over the land.

Isochukwu

Quite eccentric really

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