Ownership and sale of goods are not the only important legal relationships involving goods. In a modern economy, possession of goods is often temporarily surrendered without surrendering title. This creates a bailment, which is defined as the lawful possession of goods by one who is not the owner.
To create a bailment, the goods must be in the possession of the bailee. Possession requires physical control and intent. Whether the owner or someone else must bear a loss often hinges on whether the other person is or is not a bailee.
The bailee’s liability for loss depends on the circumstances. Some courts use a straightforward standard of ordinary care. Others use a tripartite test, depending on whether the bailment was for the benefit of the owner (the standard then is gross negligence), for the bailee (extraordinary care), or for both (ordinary care). Bailees may disclaim liability unless they have failed to give adequate notice or unless public policy prohibits disclaimers. A bailee who converts the property will be held liable as an insurer.
A bailor may have liability toward the bailee—for example, for negligent failure to warn of hazards in the bailed property and for strict liability if the injury was caused by a dangerous object in a defective condition.
Special bailments arise in the cases of innkeepers (who have an insurer’s liability toward their guests, although many state statutes provide exceptions to this general rule), warehouses, carriers, and leases.
A warehouser is defined as a person engaged in the business of storing goods for hire. The general standard of care is the same as that of ordinary negligence. Many states have statutes imposing a higher standard.
A common carrier—one who holds himself out to all for hire to transport goods—has an insurer’s liability toward the goods in his possession, with five exceptions: act of God, act of public enemy, act of public authority, negligence of shipper, and inherent nature of the goods. Because many carriers are involved in most commercial shipments of goods, the law places liability on the initial carrier. The carrier’s liability begins once the shipper has given all instructions and taken all action required of it. The carrier’s absolute liability ends when it has delivered the goods to the consignee’s place of business or residence (unless the agreement states otherwise) or, if no delivery is required, when the consignee has been notified of the arrival of the goods and has had a reasonable opportunity to take possession.
Commodity paper—any document of title—may be negotiated; that is, through proper indorsements on the paper, title may be transferred without physically touching the goods. A duly negotiated document gives the holder title to the document and to the goods, certain rights to the goods delivered to the bailee after the document was issued, and the right to take possession free of any defense or claim by the issuer of the document of title. Certain rules limit the seemingly absolute right of the holder to take title better than that held by the transferor.
- Joe Andrews delivered his quarter horse I’ll Call Ya (worth about $319,000 in 2010 dollars) to Harold Stone for boarding and stabling. Later he asked Stone if Stone could arrange for the horse’s transportation some distance, and Stone engaged the services of the Allen brothers for that purpose. Andrews did not know the Allens, but Stone had previously done business with them. On the highway the trailer with I’ll Call Ya in it became disengaged from the Allens’ truck and rolled over. The mare, severely injured, “apparently lingered for several hours on the side of the road before she died without veterinary treatment.” The evidence was that the Allens had properly secured the horse’s head at the front of the trailer and used all other equipment that a reasonably prudent person would use to secure and haul the horse; that the ball was the proper size and in good condition; that the ball was used without incident to haul other trailers after the accident; that Ronny Allen was driving at a safe speed and in a safe manner immediately before the accident; that after the accident the sleeve of the trailer hitch was still in the secured position; and that they made a reasonable effort to obtain veterinary treatment for the animal after the accident. The court determined this was a mutual-benefit bailment. Are the Allens liable? (Andrews v. Allen, 724 S.W.2d 893 (Tex. Ct. App., 1987)).
- Fisher Corporation, a manufacturer of electronic equipment, delivered VCRs to Consolidated Freightways’ warehouse in California for shipment to World Radio Inc., an electronics retailer in Council Bluffs, Iowa. World Radio rejected the shipments as duplicative, and they were returned to Consolidated’s terminal in Sarpy County, Nebraska, pending Fisher’s instructions. The VCRs were loaded onto a trailer; the doors of the trailer were sealed but not padlocked, and the trailer was parked at the south end of the terminal. Padlocks were not used on any trailers so as not to call attention to a trailer containing expensive cargo. The doors of the trailer faced away from the terminal toward a cyclone fence that encircled the yard. Two weeks later, on Sunday, July 15, a supervisor checked the grounds and found nothing amiss. On Tuesday, July 17, Consolidated’s employees discovered a 3 × 5 foot hole had been cut in the fence near the trailer, and half the VCRs were gone; they were never recovered. Consolidated received Fisher’s return authorization after the theft occurred. If Consolidated is considered a carrier, it would be strictly liable for the loss; if it is considered a bailee, it is not liable unless negligent. Which is it?
- Plaintiff purchased a Greyhound bus ticket in St. Petersburg, Florida, for a trip to Fort Meyers. The bus left at 11:30 p.m. and arrived at 4:15 a.m. When Plaintiff got off the bus, she noticed that the station and restrooms were darkened, closed, and locked. She left the terminal to cross at a lighted service station to use the bathroom. As she walked away from the terminal, she was attacked by an unknown person and injured. The terminal was located in a high-crime area of Fort Meyers. Is Greyhound liable?
- Mrs. Carter, Plaintiff, took her fur coat to Reichlin Furriers for cleaning, glazing, and storage until the next winter season. She was given a printed receipt form on the front of which Furrier’s employee had written “$100” as the coat’s value, though Mrs. Carter did not discuss its value with the employee, did not know that such a value had been noted, and didn’t read the receipt. A space for the customer’s signature on the front of the receipt was blank; below this in prominent type was this notice: “see reverse side for terms and conditions.” On the back was a statement that this was a storage contract and the customer would be bound by the terms unless contrary notice was given within ten days. There were fifteen conditions, one of which was the following: “Storage charges are based upon valuation herein declared by the depositor and amount recoverable for loss or damage shall not exceed…the depositor’s valuation appearing in this receipt.” Six months later, when Mrs. Carter sought to retrieve her coat, she was informed by Furrier that it was lost. Carter sued Furrier for $450 (about $2,200 in 2010 dollars); Furrier claimed its liability was limited to $100. Who wins and why?
- Michael Capezzaro (Plaintiff) reported to the police that he had been robbed of $30,000 (in 2010 dollars) at gunpoint by a woman. The next day police arrested a woman with $9,800 in her possession. Plaintiff identified her as the woman who had robbed him, and the money was impounded as evidence. Two years later the case against her was dismissed because she was determined to have been insane when she committed the crime, and the money in the police property room was released to her. Plaintiff then sued the police department, which claimed it was “obligated to return the money to [the woman] as bailor.” Who wins and why?
- Harley Hightower delivered his Cadillac to Auto Auction, where it was damaged. Auto Auction defended itself against Hightower’s claim that it was a negligent bailee by asserting (1) that he had not met the required burden of proof that a proximate cause of the injury was Auto Auction’s negligence because it introduced evidence that negligence of a third party was a proximate cause of the damage to his car and (2) that it was entitled to judgment in the absence of evidence of specific acts of negligence of the bailee. There was evidence that a Mrs. Tune drove her automobile onto the lot to sell it and parked it where she was directed to; that the automobiles on said lot for sale were ordinarily lined up and numbered by Auto Auction; that Plaintiff’s Cadillac was not so parked by the auction company but was parked so that if Mrs. Tune’s automobile continued forward it would strike Hightower’s Cadillac broadside; that when Mrs. Tune stopped her Buick and alighted, her car rolled down the incline on the lot toward Hightower’s car; that she attempted to stop her car but it knocked her down and continued rolling toward appellee’s Cadillac and, finally, struck and damaged it. Who wins and why?
- Several student radicals led by Richard Doctor, ranked number three on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, destroyed a shipment of military cargo en route from Colorado to a military shipping facility in Washington State. Should the carrier be liable for the loss?
- Everlena Mitchell contracted in writing with All American Van & Storage to transport and store her household goods and furnishings, and she was to pay all charges incurred on a monthly basis. As security she granted All American a warehouser’s lien giving it the right to sell the property if the charges remained unpaid for three months and if, in the opinion of the company, such action would be necessary to protect accrued charges. Everlena fell eight months in arrears and on October 20 she received notice that the amount owed was to be paid by October 31, 1975. The notice also stated that if payment was not made, her goods and furnishings would be sold on November 7, 1975. Everlena had a pending claim with the Social Security Administration, and advised All American that she would be receiving a substantial sum of money soon from the Social Services Administration; this was confirmed by two government agents. However, All American would not postpone the sale. Everlena’s property was sold on November 7, 1975, for $925.50. Near the end of November 1975, Everlena received approximately $5,500 (about $22,000 in 2010 dollars) from the United States as a disability payment under the Social Security Act, and she sued All American for improperly selling her goods. The trial court ruled for All American on summary judgment. What result should Everlena obtain on appeal?
- Roland delivered a shipment of desks to Security Warehousers and received from Security a negotiable receipt. Peter broke into Roland’s office, stole the document, and forged Roland’s signature as an indorsement, making Peter himself the holder. Peter then indorsed the document over to Billings, who knew nothing of the theft. Does Billings get good title to the desks?
- Baker’s Transfer & Storage Company, Defendant, hauled household goods and personal effects by trucks “anywhere for hire.” Its trucks did not travel on regular routes or between established terminals; it hauled household goods and personal effects on private contracts with the owners as and when the opportunity presented itself. Baker contracted to haul the Klein family’s household goods from Bakersfield, California, to Hollywood. En route the goods were destroyed by fire without Baker’s negligence. Baker’s contract provided it would redeliver the property “damage by the elements excepted.” If Baker were a common carrier, its liability would be statutorily limited to less than the amount ordered by the trial court; if it were a private carrier, its liability would be either based on ordinary negligence or as the parties’ contract provided. Working with both points, what result obtains here?
- In a bailment, the bailee
- must return similar goods
- must return identical goods
- acquires title to the goods
- must pay for the goods
- In a bailment for the benefit of a bailee, the bailee’s duty of care is
- A disclaimer of liability by a bailee is
- never allowed
- sometimes allowed
- always allowed
- unheard of in business
- A bailor may be held liable to the bailee on
- a negligence theory
- a warranty theory
- a strict liability theory
- all of the above
- The highest duty of care is imposed on which of the following?
- a common carrier
- a lessee
- a warehouser
- an innkeeper