Trespass To Goods Due To Car Harm

Question 1

I can sue the woman for damages for the harm to my car. The actions constitute trespass to the goods, as decided in Fouldes v Willoughby, where a scratch to the coach panel was considered to be a trespass. Trespass consists of wrongful interference with goods, and includes negligence which results in damage to the goods as per Section 1 of the Torts (Interference to Goods) Act 1977. The damage may be intentional, or it may also be negligent. I would have to show that the woman owes a duty of care to me, which she has breached (foreseeability and proximity). In this case, the duty of care can be proved by showing the foreseeability of possible damage to the car by parking too close and the breach of duty can be shown by the woman’s carelessness.

Issue

In this case, the first issue is whether the Chris has committed trespass to goods or conversion by using the office furniture belonging to the previous tenant and refusing to let the movers take away the furniture when they came for it. The second issue is whether the landlord, Cassandra, breached a duty towards her previous tenant in telling her new tenant that “What is here is yours to use for the duration of the tenancy” when the goods belonged to her previous tenant.

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Rule

Trespass to goods is defined as the direct, immediate interference with the personal property of another person. The use of someone else’s goods also amounts to trespass, even if the person shows that his use of the goods was in an honest belief that the goods belonged to him as held in Kirk v. Gregory. The acts of trespass to goods are actionable per se. The claimant has to prove interference by the defendant, which means that the defendant has had some kind of effect on the claimant’s chattel. The impairment of the claimant’s ability to use the chattel is enough to establish such interference. The liability is strict in nature, therefore, the claimant need not prove the defendant’s intention to prevent the claimant from accessing the chattels or causing some harm to the claimant’s chattel. The claimant must also show that he had the right to immediate possession, which was interfered with by the defendant. Thus, a refusal by the defendant to return or surrender the goods upon the lawful and reasonable demands of the claimant may be a trespass with the claimant’s chattels.

Conversion is committed when the defendant deals with the claimant’s chattels in a manner that is inconsistent with the rights of the claimant and due to which the claimant is deprived of his use and possession of the chattels. In Alexander v Southey, it was held that refusal to deliver the chattel over which the defendant has possession, but which rightfully belongs to the claimant is an act of conversion. Conversion is wider than trespass as claimant need not proof actual possession in conversion and only has to prove that he had the right to possess which was denied by the defendant’s actions.

With reference to the possible breach of duty by Cassandra, the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 is applicable to the case. Where the tenant leaves behind some goods in the landlord’s property, the goods still belong to the tenant and the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 will apply to protect the rights of the tenants. The landlord is an 'involuntary bailee', when tenant has left goods behind as per the provisions of the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977. Landlord can dispose off the goods but for that the landlord has to follow the procedure provided for in the Act. This includes the taking of reasonable care of the tenant’s goods, and making arrangements to locate the tenant and facilitating the return of goods to the tenant. The landlord also has to serve a notice to the tenant as per the with Schedule 1 of the 1977 Act, notifying the tenant to come and collect the goods. The landlord being an involuntary bailee, he has the duty not to deliberately or recklessly damage or dispose of the goods.

Application

In this case, the landlord, Cassandra, had no the right to tell Chris: “What is here is yours to use for the duration of the tenancy”, when the office furniture (desks, chairs, reception furniture and a computer) actually belonged to the previous tenant. By telling Chris this, and allowing Chris to use the furniture, Cassandra has breached her duties under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977. Under the Act, Cassandra should have served a reasonable notice to the previous tenant to collect her furniture but she did not do so. As an involuntary bailee, it was Cassandra’s duty to ensure that the goods belonging to the previous tenant are not misappropriated or used by anyone else.

Chris has also committed conversion as well as trespass even though he was under the mistaken belief that the furniture was his to use.He has caused a direct and immediate interference with the personal property of the previous tenant, and this amounts to trespass. The claimant is in a position to show that Chris has refused to surrender the furniture and computer when the lawful and reasonable demands were made on behalf of him.

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Conclusion

Chris will have to return the office furniture and computer to the previous tenant because his failure to do so will amount to conversion and give an action to the previous tenant in tort. Cassandra committed a wrong in allowing Chris to use the goods that belonged to her previous tenant as she did not abide by the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977. Chris therefore, is not in lawful possession of the furniture and the previous tenant has the right to claim her furniture from him. If he continues to refuse to give up the possession, he will be committing trespass to goods and conversion.

In actions for trespass, once the plaintiff establishes that the direct act of trespass has occurred, the burden of proof operate is on the defendant where he has to show that his use of force as a self-help measure was reasonable. Moreover, the defendant will have to prove that the use of force was in an honest and reasonable belief that it was necessary to protect themselves or someone else, or property. The burden of proof also operates for the defendant to have to prove that the force used by him was proportionate to the threat that he perceived from the claimant.

In this case, Sarah can sue Tiel for the tort of assault. Assault is an intentional tort, where the defendant causes the claimant to apprehend infliction of battery. What Sarah will have to prove to establish assault is that Tiel intended that she apprehend the application of unlawful force and that she did reasonably apprehend the immediate and direct application of unlawful force. There must be means of causing the harm to Sarah by Tiel. Although Tiel has mentioned that he will be back the next night, there is a definite threat to Sarah and she can show that she apprehended the unlawful use of force.

The requirements for use of self-help as a remedy for trespass to land are that the trespasser should be asked to leave first. In case of eviction of the trespasser, the onus is on the person who evicts that he has been reasonable. In Burton v Winters, it was held that self help can only be justified in cases of emergency.

The three differences between contract law and tort law are as follows: As contract is an agreement between two parties, there is privity of contract and the liability in contract law is in personam. Tortious liability is in rem, and is towards persons generally. Contractual liability arises from the breach of duty that is specified in a contract between two parties. Tortious liability arises from the breach of a duty that is fixed by law. Remedies for breach of contractual duty can be claim to liquidated damages, specific performance, and other remedies. Tort law uses the remedy offered by unliquidated damages for majority of the cases.

Bibliography

  • Harwood VH, Modern Tort Law (7th Edition, Routledge 2014).
  • Best A, and Barnes D, Basic Tort Law: Cases, Statutes, and Problems (Aspen Publishers 2008).
  • Elliot C and Quinn F, Tort Law (Pearson 2015).

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