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What Is The Tort of Conversion?
Types, Elements & Defenses

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If someone used your personal property without your permission and caused you damage, you can sue them for conversion.

As a personal injury attorney, I have a decade-long experience handling conversion cases, and in this article, I will explain what the tort of conversion entails.

Quick Summary

  • In some cases, the plaintiff may sue multiple people or businesses for conversion.
  • If the defendant took the plaintiff's property without their permission, they would be interfering with the plaintiff's right to that property.
  • Conversion can happen in a variety of ways, depending on the type of property involved.

What is Conversion?

A lawyer looking at a book while talking on the phoneConversion is the wrongful taking or using of another person's property without the rightful owner's consent or lawful justification [1].

Conversion is not just taking property but the act of depriving the rightful owner of it or unreasonably withholding possession from them. 

That's what makes it a civil wrong.

Conversion is a type of intentional tort in civil law, and its equivalent in criminal law includes interference with personal property, including trespass and theft.

3 Types of Conversion

There are several types of conversion other than civil and criminal conversion, and they are:

  1. Intellectual Property Rights Conversion occurs when the defendant copies, distributes or publicly performs the plaintiff's copyrighted work without their permission. 
  2. Wrongful conversion occurs when someone borrows an item and doesn't return it on demand to the person entitled to the possession.
  3. Real property occurs if the defendant unlawfully uses or takes possession of the owner's land or building without the owner's permission. 

What Is A Conversion Claim?

A lawyer looking at a bok

A conversion claim is a civil lawsuit that is filed when someone unlawfully uses or takes another person's property without their permission. 

Based on my experience, most conversion claims are often filed in situations where the plaintiff has loaned or rented property to the defendant, and the defendant refuses to return the property after it has been requested. 

"Conversion is a tort involving strict liability where even an innocent third party recipient of stolen goods may commit the tort of conversion."
- Trevor Todd, Estate Litigation Lawyer

How Can Conversion Be Committed?

Conversion can be committed by selling someone else's property without their permission, acquiring a property through an unauthorized sale with the intent to secure a proprietary interest in it for oneself, or refusing to return someone else's property after it has been requested.

As you can see, there are many ways to commit conversion. 

For example, another form of conversion is if someone takes your car without your permission and uses it as their own vehicle.

4 Elements in a Tort of Conversion Claim

Close up shot of a lawyer writing down notes

Four elements must be present to establish conversion:

  1. The plaintiff must have an immediate or legal right to the specific property.
  2. The defendant's conversion by the wrongful act is inconsistent with the property rights of the rightful owner.
  3. The defendant's actions were the legal cause of your loss or damage.
  4. The defendants intentionally interfered in your lawful possession, causing damage.

Suppose a plaintiff wants to file a claim for conversion. 

In that case, they must have all the elements above in their claim, especially proving fraudulent intent or that the defendant intentionally interfered with their physical possession in a manner inconsistent with the plaintiff's rights.

What Are the Defenses In a Tort of Conversion?

Close up shot of a businessman doing paperwork

The defenses in a tort of conversion are necessity, abatement, and consent.

Necessity

If you didn't have the owner's consent to do something, but it was crucial, you might be able to use this defense. 

You would have to prove that it was crucial and that getting permission was hard or impossible.

Abatement

If someone's land is being interfered with, that person can enter the other person's land or take other measures to stop the problem, as long as they give proper notice first. 

Consent

The defendant can use a consent defense if the plaintiff has permitted the defendant to take or use their property. 

These are just a few potential defenses in a conversion case.

If you have been accused of conversion, it is important to speak with an experienced attorney to discuss your specific situation and defenses.

What Are Conversion Remedies?

A person signing a contract

Conversion remedies are designed to restore the plaintiff to the position they would have been in if the defendant had not interfered with their personal property.

Remedies for conversion include:

  • Injunction – a court order prevents the defendant from taking or using the plaintiff's property.
  • Specific performance – a court order requiring the defendant to return the property to the plaintiff.
  • Replevin – a court order requiring the sheriff to seize the property from the defendant and return it to the plaintiff.

The fair market value or the property's full value at the time and place of conversion is used to calculate compensation.

However, you can also be compensated for the time and money properly expended in pursuit of trying to get the personal property back. 

In some cases, the court may also award emotional distress damages.

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FAQs

Can You Get Punitive Damages For Conversion?

Yes, you can get punitive damages for conversion in some cases; however, they are not guaranteed. To be eligible, you must be able to show the defendant's interference with your property was with malicious intent.

What Is The Difference Between Conversion And Trespass?

The difference between conversion and trespass is that conversion is when someone unlawfully uses or takes another person's property without permission. Trespass is an unauthorized entry onto another person's property.

Who Is Liable in a Tort of Conversion?

The person liable in a tort of conversion is someone who committed unlawful and illegal acts by taking or using another person's property without their permission.

Who Can Sue for Conversion?

Those who can sue for conversion are the lawful processors with immediate possession of property that was unlawfully taken or used. 

Do You Want To File a Conversion Claim?

If you believe you have a potential conversion claim, you should contact Schmidt & Clark and have a free consultation with an experienced attorney to discuss your legal options. 

Our attorneys can help you understand conversion rules and determine whether you have a valid claim. They can also explain the different types of remedies available to you and assist you in filing a claim.


References:

  1. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/conversion

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