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Trespass to Chattel

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What is Trespass to Chattel?

The term “chattel” refers to any personal property, either tangible or intangible but it does not apply to real property or any interest in land.

Trespass to chattel refers to the intentional and wrongful interference of another individual’s personal property without their permission.

How Do You Prove Trespass to Chattel?

In order to prove trespass to chattels, you have to prove the following elements:

  • The plaintiff owns or has the right to possess the personal property.
  • The defendant intentionally interfered with the plaintiff’s property without any consent.
  • The defendant deprived the plaintiff of possession or use of the property.
  • The interference caused damages to the plaintiff.

Thus, trespass to chattel is a valid claim in any of these situations:

  • The individual dispossess the other of the chattel.
  • The condition, quality or value of the chattel is impaired.
  • The owner is prevented from using the chattel for a substantial time.
  • Bodily harm is caused to the owner or harm is caused to some individual or thing in which the owner has a legally protected interest.

Mistake of ownership is not a valid defense to trespass to chattels which means that even if the trespassing individual did not know that the property to you, possessing or damaging the property is still enough to show interference.

Also, you can only recover actual damages in a trespass to chattels claim and these damages are based on the diminished value of the chattel due to the defendant’s actions.

How is Trespass to Chattel Similar to Conversion?

Both trespass to chattel and conversion are intentional torts and they both deal with the wrongful and intentional interference with the possession of someone’s personal property.

Both of these deal only with personal property and they do not apply to the interference of real property or any interest in land.

For conversion, you have to prove the same elements as in trespass to chattel. Both trespass to chattel and conversion are general intent torts as opposed to specific intent torts.

This means that the defendant is liable regardless of whether or not they knew that their conduct would result in the specific harm and mistake of ownership is not a valid defense to either trespass to chattel or conversion.

How is Trespass to Chattel Different From Conversion?

The main difference between these two intentional torts is the degree of interference and conversion occurs when an individual uses or alters a piece of personal property belonging to someone else without their consent.

In terms of conversion, the degree of interference must be so serious that the defendant may be required to pay the full value of the property.

However, trespass to chattel is an act which falls short of conversion and the defendant is only responsible to the extent of the damage done and not the full value of the property.

For example, if someone steals your property and you are able to recover it with minimal or no damages, you may have a cause of action in trespass but if the same individual steals the property and sells it to another, you will have a cause of action in conversion.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

If you feel that someone has intentionally and wrongfully interfered with your personal property without your permission, it may be beneficial to consult with a local personal injury attorney before proceeding.

Photo of page author Arvind Ravikumar

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-25-2018 07:50 PM PDT

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