A person has the right to own, possess, and use their personal property and land without interference from anyone. When someone seriously and intentionally interferes with the owner’s rights concerning use and possession to the point of depriving them of their property, that person has committed conversion.

What Is the Difference between Conversion and Trespass to Chattel?

Trespass to chattel is similar to conversion in that they both involve the intentional interference with the right to possess the chattel or personal property.

The primary difference between trespass to chattel and conversion is the degree to which the interferer possessed or used the chattel. For example, if the defendant took the plaintiff’s book and held it in their possession for a few hours, that is considered trespass to chattel. However, if the defendant took the plaintiff’s book and sold it, that is considered conversion because the defendant converted the property into their own possession.

What Are Conversion Defenses?

Common defenses to conversion include:

  • Abandonment: The defendant can claim that the plaintiff abandoned the property, thereby forfeiting ownership of the property.
  • Lack of Value: The defendant can claim the property has no monetary value. In some jurisdictions, a plaintiff cannot file a conversion lawsuit if the property has no monetary value.
  • Privilege: With this defense, the defendant had the right to deprive the plaintiff of their property to protect the property or people from harm.
  • Interest: A defendant can claim “interest of defendant” if they share ownership of the property.
  • Consent: It is an absolute defense if the plaintiff gave the defendant permission to use or possess the property. Forced consent and fraudulently induced consent are not a viable defense.
  • Authority of Law: The defendant has the right to convert property if permitted to do so by of a court order.
  • Statute of Limitations: The plaintiff has to file a lawsuit within a specific time period. If the plaintiff fails to do so, the defendant can use this defense.

Should I Talk to an Attorney about Conversion?

You should seek advice from a personal injury attorney about filing a lawsuit or answer to a conversion lawsuit. The attorney will advise you how to proceed with your conversion lawsuit.