Putnam's Handy Law Book for the Layman
Suppose one picks up a pocketbook, does he become the owner? Is he a bailee? Yes, and must make an honest, intelligent effort to find the owner; if failing to do so, then he may retain it as his own, meanwhile his right as finder is perfect as against all others. Should the true owner appear, whatever right the finder may have against him for recompense for the care and expense in keeping and preserving the property, his status as finder does not give him any lien unless the owner has offered a reward to whoever will restore the property. To this extent a lien thereon is thereby created.
The statutes generally provide what a person must do who has found lost property. Suppose a person appears who claims to be the owner of the thing found, what shall the finder do in the way of submitting it to his inspection? In one of the recent cases the court decided that it was a question of fact and not of law whether the finder of lost property had given a fair and reasonable opportunity for its identification before restoring it, and whether the claimant should have been given an opportunity to inspect it in order to decide whether it belonged to him.
The finder does not take title to every article found and out of the possession of its true owner. To have even a qualified ownership the thing must be lost, and this does not happen unless possession has been lost casually and involuntarily so that the mind has no recourse to the event. A thing voluntarily laid down and forgotten is not lost within the meaning of the rule giving the finder title to lost property; and the owner of a shop, bank or other place where the thing has been left is the proper custodian rather than the person who was the discoverer.
If a lost article is found on the surface of the ground, or the floor of a shop, in the public parlor of a hotel, or near a table at an open-air place of amusement, or in the car of a railroad it becomes, except as against the loser, the property of the finder, who appropriates it regardless of the place where it was found. Once a boat was found adrift and the finder made the needful repairs to keep it from sinking, yet the owner was mean enough to refuse to pay for them. The court compelled him to make good the amount to the finder.
The law regards the possession of an article which is lost as being that of the legal owner who was previously in possession, until the article is taken into the actual possession of the finder. If the finder does not know who the owner is and there is no clue to the ownership, there is no larceny although the finder takes the goods for himself and converts them to his own use. If the finder knows who the owner is or has a reasonable clue to the ownership, which he disregards, he is guilty of larceny.
Another class of cases must be noticed. Very often articles are delivered to another to have work done on them, hides to be tanned, or raw materials to be worked up into fabrics. Can a creditor of the bailee pounce on tanned hides or completed fabrics as belonging to him and take them in satisfaction of his debt? Both parties have in truth an interest in the goods, and in general it may be said that the bailor cannot thus be deprived of his interest and may follow the goods and recover them or their value.
If they are destroyed while executing the agreement, who must lose? If the bailee is not negligent or otherwise at fault, and the loss happened by internal defect or inevitable accident, the bailor would be the loser. And if workmen had been employed thereon, the bailor would also be obligated to pay for their labor.
To what extent can a bailee limit his liability by agreement? A bailee who was a cold storage keeper, stated in his receipt "all damage to property is at the owner's risk." This limitation related, so a court decided, to loss resulting from the nature of the things stored. A bailee received some cheese and gave a receipt slating that it was to be kept at the owner's risk of loss from water. It was injured from the dripping of water from overhead pipes. The bailee was, notwithstanding his receipt, held liable.
A bailor need not always be the owner of the thing bailed. He may be a lessee, agent, or having such possession and control as would justify him in thus acting. He should give the bailee notice of all the faults in the thing bailed that would expose him to danger or loss in keeping it. For example, if it were a kicking horse, he should warn the bailee to keep away from his legs.
The courts have been often troubled about the degree of care required of bailees, as it differs under varying circumstances. A bank that permits a depositor to keep a box of jewelry or silver in its vault for his accommodation, while absent from home and without receiving any compensation therefor, is not required to exercise the same degree of care as a safe deposit company whose chief business is to do such things and is paid for its service. Nevertheless a bank must exercise reasonable care, such care as is used in keeping its own things.
Suppose your package is stolen by the cashier or paying teller, is the bank responsible? That depends. If the bank knows or suspected the official was living a gay life, it ought not to keep him, and most banks would not. It is the better legal opinion, that a bank ought not to keep a president, cashier or other active official who is speculating in stocks, for the temptation to take securities not belonging to them has been too great in many cases for them to withstand. On the other hand if a long-trusted official, against whom no cause for suspicion had arisen, should steal a package from the safe, the bank would not be responsible for the loss any more than if it had been stolen by an outsider. The bank did not employ him to steal, but to perform the ordinary banking duties.
A bailee is usually a keeper only. But the nature of the property may require something more to be done. If he is entrusted with a milch cow, he must have her milked, or with cattle in the winter time which require to be served with food, he must supply it, otherwise they would starve. If he is keeping a horse which is taken sick, proper treatment should be given.
When the period of bailment is ended, the thing bailed must be returned. If it consisted of a flock of sheep, cattle and the like, all accessions must also be delivered. In many cases the bailee is not required to return the specific property, but other property of the same kind and quality. Thus if one delivers wheat for safekeeping, which is put in an elevator, the contract is fulfilled by delivering other wheat of similar kind and quality; or, if the wheat is to be made into flour, by delivering the proper amount of the same quality as the specific wheat bailed. A bailee has a lien for his service and proper expenditures in caring for and preserving the thing bailed, but not for any other debt the bailor may owe him. And if the bailee is a finder who has bestowed labor on the article found in good faith, the same rule applies.
Agisters [keepers of cattle] and livery-stable men have no lien at common law, like carriers for keeping the animals entrusted to them because they are under no obligation to take them into their keeping. In Pennsylvania a different rule was long ago declared, and has ever since been maintained. As he can agree on terms, he may make such as are agreeable to both parties. Elsewhere he can impose his own terms, and may demand his pay in advance, or create, by contract, a lien if he pleases. A person who is hired as a groom to a horse for a specified time and at a fixed price, has no lien on the horse for his service, but has a lien for feed, keeping and shoeing, which should have been furnished by the owner. A contract to do this is not necessary to create the lien, it arises as if the horse had been left for keep and care without saying more.
Do It Yourself Legal Forms
Law for the Laymen - Bailor and Bailee
Page Updated 5:24 PM Saturday 4/4/2015