If an individual wrongly interferes with goods of another individual then that individual will have a claim in tort. This means that the case is between the two individuals, not involving the state and will be held in a civil court.
If an individual has damaged goods belonging to another individual then a claim in negligence can be brought in just the same manner as if the damage occurred to any form of property. In order to bring a claim for negligence the following elements will need to be established:
- Duty of Care
- Breach of the Duty
- Damage or Injury
There is however specific legislation which has been developed in relation to specific torts where the harm relates simply to goods rather than any other form of property.
The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977
The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 defines wrongful interference with goods as the following:
- Conversion of goods
- Trespass to goods
- Negligence so far as it relates to damage to goods
- Any other tort which results in damage to goods
Section 2(1) of the Act abolishes the old tort of detinue. This was where there was a wrongful refusal to deliver goods to the individual entitled or in having custody or possession of an individual’s goods and subsequently losing them.
Definition of Conversion
Conversion is defined as dealing with goods in a manner inconsistent with the rights of the individual who is the true owner, whereby the individual in possession of the goods intends to deny the owners right or to assert a right inconsistent with the owners.
The key elements thus to be established are as follows:
- Possession of goods to which you are not the owner
- Intent to deny the owners right or to asset an inconsistent right
Examples of conversion are purchasing goods from a thief, selling another individual’s goods, destroying another’s goods etc.
Definition of Trespass
Trespass is defined as the immediate and direct unauthorised interference with another individuals goods.
For trespass to be proven there must be intention on the part of the defendant to deliberately interfere with another’s goods.
The definition of trespass includes using, removing, touching or destroying another’s goods. Examples of this are slashing someone’s tires with a knife or running a key alongside an individual’s car scratching the paint work.
If the defendant is found guilty of Section 1 wrongful interference with goods the following remedies are available to the claimant as specified in Section 3 of The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977
Order for the delivery of the goods and consequential damages
Order for the delivery of the goods where the defendant has the option of paying damages for the value of the goods
The first two remedies are specifically concerned with conversion whereas the most likely or in fact only available remedy to an individual whom has suffered a trespass or a negligent act in relation to their goods would be damages.
In certain cases where the goods have been detained following the claim the court may order delivery up of the goods.
Section 7 of the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 deals with the situation of double liability. This is where there may be two rights of action for wrongful interference, this could be both conversion and trespass, or where there are two individuals who both have an interest in the goods.
In the case of double liability the Act specifies that one single claim shall be brought by one individual party meaning the single claimant will have to account to the other once the claim has been brought.
There are two defences which can be used against a claim of wrongful interference with goods. They are as follows:
- Distress damage feasant
If for example the owner of a car has trespassed onto private land with his car and then has subsequently had his wheel clamped for the offence by the owner of the land then he cannot claim for wrongful interference with his vehicle. By trespassing on the land he is seen to consent to the interference – namely the clamping.
Distress damage feasant
Again in the case of a trespasser who trespasses onto another’s land, the owner of the land is entitled to seize and detain any property which the trespasser brought onto the land with him until the trespasser leaves or if damage has been caused until the trespasser pays for the damage caused.