What is Trover?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Trover is a civil action a plaintiff can take to recover the value of property taken or appropriated by someone else. If the plaintiff wins the suit, the property will not be returned, but the defendant will be obliged to compensate the plaintiff, using a value determined by the court. This legal remedy dates to the 1600s, and is much less widely used today than it once was, although it is an option for certain types of legal cases, depending on the area where a person wishes to bring suit. A lawyer can provide more information about whether this legal option is available and if it should be pursued.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

In cases of trover, the plaintiff shows that the property was wrongfully taken, even if the defendant initially obtained the property under legal circumstances. For instance, finding lost property is not illegal, but if a person continues to hold the property after being provided with proof of ownership, the rightful owner can bring a trover suit. Likewise, a bailee who retains property after a bailor has satisfied the terms of the bail, or a person who converts property to personal use after having been entrusted with it as a loan or rental, can be sued for damages.

In some jurisdictions, before people can bring an action for trover, they first must attempt to regain the property itself. If the person holding the property refuses to return it and evidence of this rejection can be provided, it is possible to move forward with a legal case to collect damages. People may also argue that when property was unlawfully taken, it was damaged, and they wish to recover the value of the property in its intact form from the person who damaged it or allowed it to be damaged.

In courts that accept trover suits, the judge will consider the facts as presented and make a determination. The plaintiff must be able to show the property was unlawfully taken; someone who gives something away and later decides to ask for it back, for example, cannot bring suit to recover the object or its value, as title was surrendered voluntarily. If the judge agrees with the plaintiff, a value will be determined and the defendant will be ordered to pay it.

Defendants can use a number of different arguments in trover suits. They may attempt to show that while they converted the property to their own use, it was lawful, or that it is impossible to confirm the original ownership of the property. In the case of a generic object without an identifying marker like a serial number, people could point out that the owner has no way to prove the claim being made in the suit.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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