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Dueling Remedies: Trespass to Chattels and Conversion


The traditional intentional torts protect not only the inviolability of the body (through the action for battery) and possession of real property (through the action for trespass to land) but also a possessor's interest in personal property, such as a car, a couch, a book, or a cow. Such personal possessions are referred to as “chattels” under property law, pieces of tangible, movable personal property, as opposed to “real property” such as land.

Over time, several intentional torts evolved to protect against invasions to personal property. If an actor intentionally damaged an owner's personal property, or temporarily deprived the owner of possession, she was liable for trespass to chattels. If she intentionally deprived the possessor of an item of personal property, as by stealing it, she was liable for conversion. This chapter will discuss and compare these related causes of action for interference with personal property.

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