Conversion is an intentional interference with the property of another person with the intention to deprive the owner of the property. This includes situations when someone uses the property of another and damages or destroys it.
During an act of conversion, taking the property may be lawful, while keeping the property and/or returning the property in a damaged state would be considered unlawful.
Elements of Conversion
According to CACI 2100 the plaintiff must be able to prove the following elements to establish the claim.
- Plaintiff owned, possessed or had a right to possess a personal property
- Defendant wrongfully took the property or interfered with the plaintiff’s ability to use it;
- The defendant acted without the plaintiff’s consent
- Plaintiff suffered damages
- Defendant’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff
The plaintiff generally must establish an actual interference with his ownership or right to possess property to prove the conversion. In addition to actual interference the plaintiff must also show that the interference was substantial, which can be proved by showing an intention or purpose to keep the owner from taking possession of the property or to convert the goods and to exercise ownership over them.
The Difference Between a Cause of Action for Conversion and for Trespass
The difference between a cause of action for conversion and for trespass against personal property turns on the degree of the defendant’s interference with the plaintiff’s rights in the property.
In the case of conversion, it is essential to prove that the defendant actually and substantially has exercised control over the plaintiff’s personal property, interfered with the plaintiff’s rights in the property. In contrast, any illegal interference or exercise of control over the personal property of another person can give rise to a cause of action for trespass.
After a property has been converted, the injured party can choose to either sue the defendant for the tort, or waive the tort and sue in “assumpsit” either for money had and received or the value of the property converted.
The Broad Meaning of Conversion
Conversion does not necessarily simply mean theft of the property, it is more related to actual interference with the victim’s possession or ownership rights rather than just theft.
Examples of conduct which can be included in the claim:
- Destroying another person’s personal property
- Failure to deliver funds or property
- Refusing to record the proper ownership after a sale
- Changing property in such a way that it can’t be used properly or used at all
Some Types of Personal Property Which Can Be Converted
- Motor vehicles
- Financial instruments
- Cash money
- Building supplies
Damages the Plaintiff Can Recover After a Successful Lawsuit
- Value of the property at the time of the conversion, with interest from that time.
Evidence of the cost of the property, along with other circumstances such as the condition of the property ant the extent of its use can be considered essential in determining the value of the property at the time of the conversion.
- An amount sufficient to indemnify the victim for the reasonable, natural, and proximate results of the illegal act complained of and which a proper degree of prudence on the plaintiff’s part wouldn’t be averted.
- Fair compensation for money and time spent in pursuit of the property.