Finders Keepers
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Lost Property
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Lost property is slightly different from abandoned property. Abandoned property involves the willful acts of the owner in terms of intending to give up possession and title. Lost property, on the other hand, is property that is accidentally and involuntarily lost by the owner. With regard to lost property, the rule is clear that the "finder" prevails against all other people in the world, except for the true owner. There are a few minor exceptions to this rule, and we’ll address these exceptions in the following paragraphs. First, let’s use a hypothetical to flesh this rule out more fully.

In this story, Aaron is walking down the street after throwing his guitar in the dump, and his wallet accidentally falls out of his jean-pocket. This was an involuntary act by Aaron, and he had no intent to give up his wallet and the contents therein. Bryan, happily walking along with his new guitar, stops in the middle of the sidewalk and sees the wallet lying on the cement blocks. He picks the wallet up, smiles, and puts it and its contents in his own pocket. In this scenario, our "finder" (Bryan) is the owner of this wallet as against everyone else in the world, except for Aaron. Aaron is the only person who has a claim to the wallet that is superior to Bryan’s. If Aaron never attempts to find his wallet, Bryan is the rightful owner because he found it in the middle of the sidewalk.

Although this seems like a pretty basic and straightforward concept, it wouldn’t be right if there weren’t a few exceptions (because everyone in the legal world knows that it is more likely than not that there will be oodles of exceptions to even the simplest laws on the books). First, if the finder is a trespasser, then the owner of the place where the lost property was found will be the rightful owner. For example, if Aaron had dropped his wallet on his neighbor’s lawn, and Bryan went on to that person’s lawn to retrieve the wallet for himself, Bryan would not prevail. The neighbor would prevail against everyone in the world, except for Aaron. Second, if the lost property is found in a place where access to the public is heavily restricted, then the owner of that place would prevail. Here, an example would be a construction site, where signs prohibiting public access are clearly posted throughout the premises. In this scenario, the owner of the site under construction would prevail. The third and final exception, and one that may be more applicable to our everyday lives, is the employer-employee exception. In this scenario, if an employee finds lost property while working for and on the premises of his employer, the majority rule is that the employer has superior rights to the employee. For example, if Bryan and Aaron worked in the same building, and Bryan found Aaron’s wallet at their workplace while he was working, the employer would have superior rights to everyone except Aaron (the true owner).

Next, we’ll discuss misplaced property.

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