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Trespass To Chattel Vs. Conversion

An intentional tort is an action that creates an injury or harm through an intentional action by a bad actor. The requisite intent requirement is crucial in determining whether there was an intentional tort, and to whether a claim may proceed through the legal process. There are two intentional torts that are extremely similar to each other, but are two separate actionable offenses. They trespass into chattel and conversation.

Under the Restatement (Second) of Torts, an action to trespass to chattel can be committed in the following ways: An intentional (a) dispossession of the chattel; or (b) intermeddling or using the chattel that is possessed by another. Restatement (Second) of Torts, § 217. An individual possesses a chattel when they have physical control of it with the intention of exercising that control, on the possessor’s behalf or on the behalf of a different individual. Restat. 2d of Torts, § 216. When referencing intent, it is immaterial that the individual intermeddles with a chattel through mistake or that the individual believes that the possessor had consented to the trespass. Restat. 2d of Torts, § 216 Cmt c. 

In comparison, the intentional tort of conversion is an intentional exercise of dominion or control over a chattel which so seriously interferes with the right of another to control it that the actor may justly be required to pay the other the full value of the chattel. Restat. 2d of Torts, §222A(1). To determine the seriousness of the interference, the following factors are used: (a) the extent and duration of the actor’s exercise of dominion or control; (b) the actor’s interest to assert a right in fact inconsistent with other’s rights of control; (c) the actor’s good faith; (d) the extent and duration of the resulting interference with the other’s right of control; (e) the harm done to the chattel; and (the inconvenience and expense caused to the other. Restat. 2d of Torts, § 222A(2). The ways conversion is committed by the following: (a) dispossessing another of a chattel; (b) destroying or altering a chattel; (c) using a chattel; (d) receiving a chattel; (disposing of a chattel; (f) mis delivering a chattel; or (g) refusing to surrender a chattel. Restat. 2d of Torts, § 223. 

These two notions are very similar, but can be brought as different actions. An example of a trespass to chattel is when an individual would use another’s phone without their permission. An example of a conversion would be selling that phone without the individual consent. The emphasis on conversion is that the dominion is severe. Despite these notions being different, they have some similarities beyond the action itself. An action for a trespass to chattel or a conversion may not necessarily be sufficient to outweigh the benefit of attorney costs and litigation expenses. Depending on the chattel, it might not benefit a plaintiff to file an action against an individual that committed an intentional trespass to chattel or conversion, unless these actions are filed without other actionable offenses. Nonetheless, the language of these two legal concepts may confuse individuals from its intricacies. Although very similar, and although requiring the requisite intent to be an actionable offense, these two legal theories are separate from one another. 

Thanks to a personal injury lawyer with our friends Eglet Adams for their insight on chattel vs. conversion in regards to intentional torts.