Trespass to Chattel and It’s Elements

Trespass to Chattel and Its Elements:


Trespass is the unlawful interference or encroachment with land or chattel by a person who doesn’t have legal permission to do so. It is the disruption of the peaceful possession of land or property by a person who doesn’t have the right to do that. Its the direct and unlawful interference with the chattel in possession of another person.

Chattels are movable properties that can be taken around with free will. Trespass to chattel in other words is the intentional or negligent encroachment on the property in possession of another., this stand to state that for you to institute an action for trespass to chattel, you must be in immediate possession of such chattel. The interference must have been done to the chattel directly and intentionally or negligently.

This entails that the Plaintiff will also establish that the encroachment was done to his chattel intentional or negligently by another person who doesn’t have legal justification for such an act. Meanwhile, it is the law that if the defendant has legal justification for such an act that they sued him for trespass that the action will fail and he will be exonerated.

The interference can be any physical contact with the chattel in a quantifiable way, or any dispossession of the chattel whether by taking it, destroying it, or barring the owner’s access to it. The mere touching of a chattel without causing any harm to it may in appropriate circumstances be actionable and entitled the plaintiff to get nominal damages.

READ ALSO: Possession Meaning and types of possession

In conclusion, it would be important to note that trespass is prepared to protect possession, that is the right of immediate possession of a chattel, as distinct from ownership. It protects the right of a person to the control, possession, retention or custody of a chattel against interference by another person without lawful justification.


For the plaintiff to succeed in an action for this trespass, he must be able to establish either of the following:

  1. That the interference was direct and out of the intentional act of a person who does have legal justification for encroaching on the chattel in his possession
  2. That the interference was direct and out of the negligent act of a person with no lawful justification for such interference.

Note: A person may not be sued for trespass to chattel if such encroachment occurred as a result of an accident.


The following persons shall have the right to sue for this type of trespass include:

  1. Owner
  2. Bailee
  3. Lenders
  4. Finders
  5. Assignees
  6. Trustees
  7. Custodians
  8. Caretakers
  9. Executors
  10. Administration of estates and so forth.

Note: that trespass is an action against possession and not ownership and anybody who has possession or has the right to immediate possession can maintain an action for encroachment on such a movable property (Chattel).

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In an action for trespass to chattel, Defendant can raise the following defence to exculpate himself from damages.

  1. Inevitable accident: Defendant may raise the defence of an inevitable accident. This defence can stand when the encroachment occurs as the inevitable accident that the defendant cannot avoid. In this scenario, the defendant neither have the intention of interfering with the chattel nor did he act negligently.
  2. Subsisting bailment: When the interference was done by a party in a bailment agreement, then actions for trespass to chattel may not succeed. Except if such encroachment would affect the reversionary interest of the bailor.
  3. Limitation of time, as a result of the expiration of the time specified for legal action.
  4. Honest conversion, or acting honestly: if the encroachment emanated from honest conversion, then the mistake of fact will exonerate him. However, this depends on the time that he reported back to the owner of the property.
  5. Jus tertii, that is, the title, or better right of a third party, provided that he has the authority of such third party.
  6. Subsisting lien


The Defendant may be entitled to the following remedies:

  1. Payment of damages
  2. Repair of the damages
  3. Replacement of the chattel
  4. Payment of the market price of the chattel

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