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Conversion: Property Theft, Destruction

Conversion is a commonly used intentional tort that exists in civil law. Almost without fail, in any case involving the wrongful appropriation, use, meddling, theft, damage, or destruction of personal property, conversion can be plead as a cause of action.

Specifically, conversion is the unauthorized assumption and exercise of the right of ownership over the personal property of another to the exclusion of the owner’s rights.  Fehrman v. Pfetzing, 917 S.W.2d 600, 602 (Mo.App.E.D.1996). To make out a cognizable claim for conversion, a plaintiff must prove that he or she was the (1) owner of the property in question, or entitled to its possession; that the defendant took possession of the property with the conscious intent to exercise some control of it; and that (3) the defendant thereby deprived the plaintiff of the right to possession of the property.

Remember that conversion is an intentional tort. Conversion cannot be committed via negligence. Moreover, procedurally, if a plaintiff can prove that the defendant acted outrageously, or with evil motive, the plaintiff may be entitled to punitive damages.

Conversion applies to many different types of personal property — things like cars, personal possessions, and even intellectual property can be the subject of conversion claims.

Also, conversion is obviously committed is destroyed, damaged or stolen. The plaintiff in such circumstances has been deprived of the property’s use. But the deprivation has been interpreted liberally. Even an unreasonable interference for a substantial period of time that doesn’t harm the quality or condition of the property can result in the plaintiff being entitled to the fair market value of the property at the time of the taking.

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