Conversion (law) - Conversion and Crime

Conversion and Crime

See also: Criminal conversion

Conversion is an interference with another's ownership of property. It is a general intent tort, not a specific intent tort. That means that the intent to take or otherwise deal with the property is enough to support the claim, and it doesn't matter whether the defendant knew that the act would constitute interference with the property of another. Therefore, the defendant's innocent reasons for the act cannot be used as an excuse. It does not matter if the defendant made a mistake. The standard remedy for conversion is a judgment for damages in an amount equal to the fair market value of the property. Punitive damages are also possible, because conversion is an intentional tort.

The standard remedy in a detinue action is an order that the property be returned. The standard remedy in an action for trespass to chattels is a judgment for an amount equal to the value of loss of use of the property. Damages from a trespass claim are based on the harm caused to the plaintiff, rather than the value of the chattel. Many actions can constitute both conversion and trespass. In these cases, a plaintiff must eventually choose which claim to press based on what damages they seek to recover. It is the difference between forcing a rental fee and a total sale upon a defendant.

In some cases the exercise of the dominion may amount to an act of trespass or to a crime, e.g. where the taking amounts to larceny, or fraudulent appropriation by a bailee or agent entrusted with the property of another (Larceny Acts of 1861 and 1901). Fraudulent conversion by any person to his own use (or that of persons other than the owner) of property entrusted to him is a crime in the case of custodians of property, factors, trustees under express trusts in writing (Larceny Act 1861, ss. 77-85; Larceny Act 1901).

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