Discuss The Law relating to Trespass to Goods

“Discuss The Law relating to Trespass to Goods”

1. Introduction

A wrongful interference with the possession of property that is personal property as well as realty, or the action instituted to recover damages stand for trespass. The action for trespass to goods, affords a remedy where there has been a direct interference with goods in the claimant’s possession at the time of the trespass, whether that be by taking the goods from him or damaging the goods without removing them. 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.

A tort of wrongful interference in relation to property, Trespass was the earliest form and consisted in removing or damaging the goods. It is essentially a wrong against possession – it was not necessary that the defendant should have appropriated the goods. The remedy was not accordingly available where the plaintiff had voluntarily given possession of his goods to the defendant. Trespass to goods remains and consists in any wrongful interference with them, which is removing a car from a garage or killing an animal or any other thing regarding this field. The rise of negligence has caused it to be doubted whether, at least in unintentional cases, there is any need to prove damage and, because it has been held that in cases of unintentional trespass to the person, negligence must be proved, it might well be the case that the same will be held to apply in relation to trespass to goods. However, if the act is intentional towards the goods, then that is sufficient even if the defendant is mistaken. The plaintiff must be in possession at the time of the alleged interference.

In fact it’s a direct or intentional immediate interference with personal property belonging to another person. Whereas, the tort provides protection for the person entitled to immediate possession of the chattels in question, and in that and other ways it resembles trespass to land or goods anything. We can also it as the entry to another’s property without right or permission or enter unlawfully on someone’s property or commit a sin violating a law or a moral law.

2. Fields of Trespass

Trespass is an area of tort law broadly divided into three groups:

· Trespass to the person,

· Trespass to chattels or goods and

· Trespass to land.

Trespass to the person

There are three types of trespass, the first of which is trespass to the person. Whether intent is a necessary element of trespass to the person varies by jurisdiction. Under English decision, Letang v Cooper, intent is required to sustain a trespass to the person cause of action; in the absence of intent, negligence is the appropriate tort. In other jurisdictions, gross negligence is sufficient to sustain a trespass to the person, such as when a defendant negligently operates an automobile and strikes the plaintiff with great force. “Intent is to be presumed from the act itself. Generally, trespass to the person consists of three torts: assault, battery, and false imprisonment.


Under the statutes of various common law jurisdictions, assault is both a crime and a tort. Generally, a person commits criminal assault if he purposefully, knowingly, or recklessly inflicts bodily injury upon another; if he negligently inflicts bodily injury upon another by means of dangerous weapon; or if through physical menace, he places another in fear of imminent serious bodily injury. A person commits tortuous assault when he engages in “any act of such a nature as to excite an apprehension of battery. In some jurisdictions, there is no requirement that actual physical violence result—simply the “threat of unwanted touching of the victim” suffices to sustain an assault claim.


Battery is “any intentional and unpermitted contact with the plaintiff’s person or anything attached to it and practically identified with it. The elements of battery common law do vary by jurisdiction.

False Imprisonment

False imprisonment is defined as “unlawful obstruct or deprivation of freedom from restraint of movement. In some jurisdictions, false imprisonment is a tort of strict liability that is no intention on the behalf of the defendant is needed, but others require intent to cause the confinement. Physical force, however, is not a necessary element, and confinement needn’t be lengthy the restraint must be complete, though the defendant need not resist.

Trespass to Chattels or Goods

Trespass to chattels, also known as trespass to goods or trespass to personal property, is defined as “an intentional interference with the possession of personal property proximately causing injury. While originally a remedy for the aspiration of personal property, the tort grew to incorporate any interference with the personal property of another. In some jurisdictions, such as trespass to chattels has been codified to clearly define the scope of the remedy in most jurisdictions, trespass to chattel remains a purely common law remedy, the scope of which varies by jurisdiction.

Generally, trespass to chattels possesses three elements:

Lack of consent

The interference with the property must be non-consensual. A claim does not lie if, in acquiring the property, the purchaser consents contractually to certain access by the seller. “Any use exceeding the consent” authorized by the contract, should it cause harm, gives rise to a cause for action.

Actual harm

The interference with the property must result in actual harm. The threshold for actual harm varies by jurisdiction. In California, for instance, an electronic message may constitute a trespass if the message interferes with the functioning of the computer hardware, but the plaintiff must prove that this interference caused actual hardware damage or actual impaired functioning.


The interference must be intentional. What constitutes intention varies by jurisdiction, however, the Restatement (Second) of Torts indicates that “intention is present when an act is done for the purpose of using or otherwise intermeddling with a chattel or with knowledge that such an intermeddling will, to a substantial certainty, result from the act” and continues, “[i]t is not necessary that the actor should know or have reason to know that such intermeddling is a violation of the possessory rights of another.

Remedies for trespass to chattel include damages, liability for conversion, and injunction, depending on the nature of the interference.

Trespass to Land

Trespass to land involves the wrongful interference with one’s possessor rights in real property. It is not necessary to prove that harm was suffered to bring a claim, and is instead actionable parse. While most trespasses to land are intentional, British courts have held liability holds for trespass committed negligently. Similarly, some American courts will only find liability for unintentional intrusions where such intrusions arise under circumstances evincing negligence or involve a highly dangerous activity.Exceptions exist for entering land adjoining a road unintentionally like in a car accident, in some jurisdictions trespass while in possession of a firearm.

3. Law relating Trespass to Goods

Trespass to goods is defined as “wrongful physical interference with goods that are in the possession of another”. It is covered not only by the common law, but also by the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977, which was written to clear up the confusing rules on trespass to goods which had evolved over the centuries. It is similar to the tort of conversion, which covers the interference with goods in a way which is inconsistent with the rights of the owner. “Physical interference” is usually the taking or destroying of goods, but can be as minor as touching or moving them in the right circumstances. Here the defendant moved jewelers from one room to another, where it was stolen. The deceased owner’s executor successfully sued her for trespass to goods. Goods cover almost any physical object, including animals but not organs. “Possession” has the standard legal meaning, referring to the claimant’s right to use, control or deal with the item. This can include owners, but also bales.

It is unknown what mental element is expected in cases of trespass to goods; while trespass to the person requires intent, the requirements for trespass to goods have never been tested in court. The common remedy is damages, which may be awarded regardless of if any actual harm is suffered; where there is damage, the defendant will only be liable if he could have reasonably foreseen it. Valid defenses are those of statutory authority, consent, where it is necessary to interfere with the goods.

4. Torts (Trespass to Goods) Act 1977

An Act to amend the law concerning, conversion and other torts affecting goods on 22nd July 1977.

The major effect of the 1977 Act is to rationalize the remedies available to claimants suing in conversion both in relation to the damages which may be awarded and in making provision for specific return of the goods by way of orders for delivery.

Here a claimant with a limited interest in the goods could normally recover their full value from a third party. Under the 1977 Act and rules of court the claimant now has to identify any other person whom he knows to have an interest in the goods and any such interested party may be joined, whereupon the damages may be apportioned amongst the interested parties in proportion to their respective interests

The claimant in conversion is entitled to be compensated to the extent of the value to him of the goods of which he has been deprived. This will often appropriately be the market value of the goods. Where goods are of a kind which can be readily bought in the market the actual market value will be the appropriate measure; otherwise the replacement value in a comparable state (JE Hall v Barclay[1937] 3 All ER 620) or the original cost minus depreciation will be the standard. Where the actual value of the claimant’s interest in the goods is less than the market value he may be awarded the value of that interest and not the higher market value.

‘The general rule is that a plaintiff whose property is irreversibly converted has vested in him a right to damages for conversion measured by the value of the property at the date of conversion’.

It makes a real difference whether we explain the claim as based upon unjust enrichment or a tort.

First, the quantum of recovery will not be the same. If the claim is for a tort it would be expected that the plaintiff could claim all of the loss he has suffered as a result of the defendant’s wrong. This is not so. All that is recoverable is the expenditure which avoids the tort. So, in my example, the expenditure to make the house safe can be recovered but not any further expenditure to cure its defects or other loss.

Second, misclassifying the claim as based upon a tort could be thought to allow recovery for pure economic loss like loss not suffered as a result of the violation of a right of the plaintiff. This could then be used as a bridgehead from which to argue for other such claims. This has caused serious problems in the Commonwealth.

So, it isn’t simply a question of the label on the bottle. Claims which are not based upon a tort don’t belong in torts codes.

The 1977 Act introduces common remedies for all forms of ‘wrongful interferences with goods’. It provides that in proceedings for conversion, or any other chattel tort, against a person in possession or control of goods, the following relief may be given, as far as is appropriate:

An order for delivery and for payment of any consequential damages

An order for delivery of the goods, but giving the defendant the alternative of paying damages by reference to the value of the goods, together in either alternative with payment of any consequential damages or

Damages If it is shown to the court’s satisfaction that an order for delivery and payment of any consequential damages has not been complied with, the court may revoke the order (or the relevant part of it) and make an order for payment of damages by reference to the value of the goods.

Where an order is made for delivery but giving the defendant the alternative of paying damages, the defendant may satisfy the order by returning the goods at any time before execution of judgment, but without prejudice to liability to pay any consequential damages.

Where goods are not detained (as where they are lost or destroyed) the normal form of judgment is for damages.

5. Limitation of Action The Limitation Act 1980 provides that:


Once the period of limitation has expired, the claimant’s title to the goods is extinguished.

· Where there are successive conversions in respect of the same goods, whether by the same person or not, the cause of action is extinguished after six years from the first conversion.

· If the action is based on fraud, or if the right of action is concealed by fraud, the period of limitation (normally six years under the Act) does not begin to run until the claimant discovers or ought to have discovered the fraud.

The Limitation Act 1980 also has complex provisions designed to enable owners from whom goods are stolen to sue the thief without limit of time.

7. Feature of law relating trespass to good

· Although the defendant’s dealing with the good must be deliberate, the interference with the claimant’s right to possession need not be. Liability is strict and may catch even an entirely honest defendant.

· It protects right to possession. Acts on this trespass are in consistent with the claimant’s right to possession and the action for it may be used to vindicate possessory rights.

· As with any tort, the nature of the protected interest should be reflected in the remedies available. In an appropriate case, a court may in its discretion order the return on a converted good to the claimant. But this remedy is not available as the even where the defendant retains possession of the goods. In this and certain other ways, it suffers from inconsistency. It is accused of performing too many rules and none of them wholly satisfactory. In particular, it has been argued that the process of returning goods.

· It dies ensures security to the people who get hold with troubles.

· Like all other laws it also helps in equality. People can ask for legal action as required.

8. Conclusion

In the conclusion part it can be said that, trespass to goods or trespass to personal property, is defined as “an intentional interference with the possession of personal property proximately causing injury. Different specialists relating this field did make different opinions. Although law is available regarding this, adequate laws should be passed to handle and enforce legally.


· (2012). Retrieved march 20, 2012 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trespass

· google. (2010, april 26). Retrieved march 20, 2012 from google-books: http://books.google.com/books

· legal articles. (n.d.). Retrieved march22, 2012, from legal:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trespass_in_English_law

· Retrieved april 2012, 2, http://www.lawteacher.net/tort-law/lecture-notes/interference-with-goods.php

· scribd. (n.d.). Retrieved march, 2012,http://www.lawiki.org/lawwiki/Broken/Trespass_to_goods

· uk lagislation govt. Retrieved march, 2012, from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1977/32

· lawyersnjurists. (n.d.). Retrieved march, 2012, from lawyersnjurists: http://resources.lawyersnjurists.com/legal-documentations

<href=”#_ftnref1″ name=”_ftn1″ title=””>[1] A plaintiff also known as a claimant or complainant is the term used in some jurisdictions for the party who initiates a lawsuit also known as an action before a court. By doing so, the plaintiff seeks a legal remedy, and if successful, the court will issue judgment in favor of the plaintiff and make the appropriate court order

· <href=”#_ftnref2″ name=”_ftn2″ title=””>An act to handle Interference with Goods.

<href=”#_ftnref3″ name=”_ftn3″ title=””>[3] A related law study regarding an incident.

<href=”#_ftnref4″ name=”_ftn4″ title=””>[4] The decrease in value of assets and the allocation of the cost of assets to periods in which the assets are used.

<href=”#_ftnref5″ name=”_ftn5″ title=””>[5] Pure economic loss in English law, arising from negligence, has traditionally been limited. Notably, recovery for losses that are “purely economic” arise under the Fatal Accidents Act 1976; and for negligent misstatements.