What happens if there has been wrongful interference?
If someone wrongly interferes with your goods and causes damage or injury this would constitute a tort and you may have a claim for negligence, just as you would if damage occurred to any other kind of property. To succeed in such a claim you would need to show:
- you were owed a duty of care;
- that duty of care was breached;
- the breach caused damage or injury.
Legislation has, however, been developed to deal with cases 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 (TIGA 1977) defines wrongful interference with goods as:
- 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 TIGA 1977 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.
Conversion is defined as dealing with goods in a manner inconsistent with the rights of the true owner, whereby the person in possession of the goods intends to deny the owner’s right or to assert a right inconsistent with the owner’s.
The key elements to be established are:
- possession of goods which you don’t own;
- intent to deny the owner’s right or to assert an inconsistent right.
Examples of conversion are purchasing goods from a thief, selling someone else’s goods, misdelivery by a carrier, or destroying another’s goods.
Trespass is defined as the immediate and direct unauthorised interference with someone else’s 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 someone breaches s 1 of TIGA 1977, the following remedies are available to the claimant, as specified in s 3 of TIGA 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 TIGA 1977 deals with situations of double liability. This is where there may be two rights of action for wrongful interference – eg, both conversion and trespass – or where there are two individuals who both have an interest in the goods.
In the case of double liability, TIGA 1977 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:
- distress damage feasant.
If, for example, the owner of a car has trespassed onto private land with their car and then has subsequently had their wheel clamped for the offence by the owner of the land then they cannot claim for wrongful interference with their vehicle. By trespassing on the land they are 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 them until the trespasser leaves or if damage has been caused until the trespasser pays for the damage caused.