The Common Law Tort Of Conversion

Conversion Attorney

Have you ever had your car towed, even though you were legally parked? Have you ever had a car impounded, but the person in charge refuses to return your vehicle even after you attempted to pay? Has a neighbor ever cut down your trees as part of an argument? And have you ever left something in a public place unattended while you went to the bathroom, only to find that it was gone when you returned? These are all examples of the common law tort of conversion, and with the help of a conversion attorney, you can financially recover from the damage done to your property.

Elements of Conversion

The elements of conversion are as follows; a person, who takes your property, and deprives you of it. As the 4th Circuit Court of the United States said, “Conversion involves an act of control or dominion over the property that seriously interferes with the owner’s rights,” United States v. Stockton, 788 F.2d 210, 216 (4th Cir. 1986). 

The most important element of a conversion case is that the person who deprives you of your property is acting contrary to your wishes. While intent is important for proving conversion, this intent is limited to the intent to take control of the property, without consideration for whether the person was aware or acted in good faith in the process of taking ownership of the property, as stated in  Kelley v. Laforce, the 1st Circuit Court of the United States decided that, “It is no defense to conversion for defendant to claim that he acted in good faith, reasonably believing that he had a legal right to possession of the goods,” (Kelley v. Laforce, 288 F.3d 1, 11-12 (1st Cir. 2002)). 

Additionally, it is not necessary for your property to be damaged in the process; the simple act of taking the property without permission and depriving you of your right to it is enough. Another 4th Circuit decision, In re Stanley, states plainly, “For conversion to occur, it is not necessary that the property be damaged, but merely that the owner suffer a serious deprivation of the incidents of ownership,” (In re Stanley, 66 F.3d 664, 668 (4th Cir. 1995)). 

Additionally, this deprivation does not need to be permanent; the Louisiana Court of Appeal 3rd circuit demonstrates this with their decision that, “[a] conversion consists of an act in derogation of the plaintiff’s possessory rights, and any wrongful exercise or assumption of authority over another’s goods, depriving him of the possession, permanently or for an indefinite time, is a conversion, (Hagberg v. Manuel525 So.2d 19 (La.App. 3d Cir. 1988)). So, whether someone has stolen your car and sold it for scrap or your bank temporarily repossesses it on false pretenses, both claims are still under the tort of conversion.

Why Hire a Conversion Attorney?

While the standards for conversion seem broad, not every intentional act of possession over property you own is considered conversion. For example, many states, such as Virginia, have laws that protect tow companies from liability if they are acting under the orders of the police. Police also are protected from civil liability if, in the process of their work as a police officer, they decide that your property needs to be moved or destroyed. The best way to find out if you have a cause of action for a conversion tort, the best thing you can do is get in contact with a conversion attorney. 

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