Tort Law - Trespass

Trespass to Goods

The owner of any chattel – a physical item which is owned by someone – has a right not to have their chattels interfered with. Like other trespasses, trespass to goods includes even the slightest unwelcome touch of someone else’s goods, not just recognisable damage. Conversion is another tort which involves the wrongful use of another’s property – converting it to one’s own possession. A suit in conversion is appropriate where either theft or borrowing without consent has occurred. A suit in trespass to goods, on the other hand, is more appropriate to vandalism, and other forms of interference.


Immediate Right of Possession

To determine whether a trespass to goods occurred against one person or another, you first need to understand the property rights held by different interested parties. This is because ownership can mean different things. A person without any current right to control the goods in question cannot sue for a trespass. Some rights to possession may arise from contracts and qualify as personal rights only. To sue for trespass on any kind you need not a personal right to the thing, but a proprietary right. For more detail refer to the chapter on Property Law.


Having established a proprietary right, the plaintiff then must establish that they have a right to take possession immediately. In Wilson v Lombank[1] the plaintiff was able to establish their lawful right of possession in spite of not being in physical possession at the time when the trespass occurred. The plaintiff, a car dealer named Wilson, bought a car from a vendor who had no legal title to it due to a chattel mortgage over it – and therefore could not pass the title on. The car needed repair, and the plaintiff left it at a garage, where he had monthly credit terms. The repairs were completed and the car was left in front of the garage. Meanwhile there had been a purported – though invalid – sale to the defendants, Lombank Ltd....





[1] Wilson v Lombank Ltd (1963) 1 All ER 740.