Defenses to Conversion

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What is “Conversion”?

Conversion occurs when one person deprives another of their rights to use or possess property.  Conversion is also known as “trespass to chattel”.  It usually has to do with personal property (chattel) rather than real property.  A person can be held liable for conversion if they intentionally take the property of another, or deprives them of using it without their permission.

In a conversion claim, the focus is not so much the wrongful acquisition of property.  Instead, the focus is on the property owner being deprived of their property.  Thus, a person who is lawfully in possession of the personal property can still be found liable for conversion if they exceed the limits of their authority or control over the property. 

The legal remedies for conversion typically require the interfering party to return the goods to their true owner, or to reimburse them for the property’s value.  Or, the liable party may have to reimburse the owner for losses during the time in which they were deprived of the property, which may be more or less than the property’s actual value.

What are the Defenses to Conversion?

As with most violations, there may be several defenses available to a party who has been accused of conversion.  Some of the more common defenses to conversion include:

Each of these defenses is associated with various elements of proof that must be met by the defendant.  These can vary by jurisdiction, and according to the nature of the claim.

Which Defenses are NOT Available in a Conversion Claim?

In most jurisdictions the following types of defenses are not available in a conversion claim:

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Defenses to Conversion?

If you have been accused of conversion, it is to your advantage to work closely with a lawyer.  Your attorney will be able to discuss the defenses that may be available to you.  These can depend on several factors, which can sometimes be difficult to understand.  However, an experienced attorney will be able to explain how these apply to your claim.

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Last Modified: 02-13-2012 03:59 PM PST

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