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One of the old common-law Forms of Action; a legal remedy for conversion, or the wrongful appropriation of the plaintiff's Personal Property.

Early in its history, the English Common Law recognized the rights of a person whose property was wrongfully held (or detained). Such a person could bring an action of Detinue to recover the goods or, later, could bring an action on the case to recover the value of the goods. In the course of the sixteenth century, the action of trover developed as a specialized form of action on the case.

The action of trover originally served the plaintiff who had lost property and was trying to recover it from a defendant who had found it. Soon the lost and found portions of the plaintiff's claim came to be considered a legal fiction. The plaintiff still included them in the complaint, but they did not have to be proved, and the defendant had no right to disprove them. This brought the dispute immediately to the issue of whether the plaintiff had a right to property that the defendant would not give over to him or her. For some cases, it still was necessary for the plaintiff to demand a return of the property and be refused before he or she could sue in trover. It was reasonable to expect an owner to ask for his or her watch, for example, before the repairperson holding it could be sued for damages. The measure of damages in trover was the full value of the property at the time the conversion took place, and this was the amount of money the plaintiff recovered if he or she won the lawsuit.

Trover proved to be more convenient for many plaintiffs than the older action of detinue because a defendant could defeat a plaintiff in detinue by Wager of Law. This meant that the defendant could win the case by testifying under oath in court and having eleven neighbors swear that they believed him or her. In addition, the plaintiff in trover was not obligated to settle for a return of the property, regardless of its current condition, and did not have to prove that he or she had made a demand for the property if the defendant had stolen it. Since it was the plaintiff who selected the form of the action, he or she was more likely to choose trover over detinue.

Today the ancient forms of action have been abolished, but the word trover is still used sometimes for an action to recover possession of personal property, and its history has contributed to developments in this area of the law.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


an action on the case that became a distinct species of case requiring allegations that:
  1. (i) the plaintiff had possession of goods;
  2. (ii) that he lost them by accident;
  3. (iii) the defendant found them;
  4. (iv) the defendant converted them to his own use.

It was assumed that any dealing with the goods was a denial of the owner's title. DETINUE, another possibility, became unpopular for the procedural reason that the defendant was allowed to proceed by trial by WAGER OF LAW. It is a form of wrongful interference with goods covered now by the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977.

Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

TROVER, remedies. Trover signifies finding. The remedy is called an action of trover; it is brought to recover the value of personal chattels, wrongfully converted by another to his own use; the form supposed that the defendant might have acquired the possession of the property lawfully, namely, by finding, but if he did not, by bringing the action the plaintiff waives the trespass; no damages can therefore be recovered for the taking, all must be for the conversion. 17 Pick. 1; Anthon, 156; 21 Pick. 559; 7 Monr. 209; 1 Metc. 172.
     2. It will be proper to consider the subject with reference, 1. To the thing converted. 2. The plaintiff's right. 3. The nature of the injury. 4. The pleadings. 5. The verdict and judgment.
     3.-1. The property affected must be some personal chattel; 3, Serg. & Rawle, 513; and it has been decided that trover lies for title deeds; 2 Yeates, R. 537; and for a copy of a record. Hardr. 111. Vide 2 T. R. 788; 2 Salk. 654; 2 New Rep. 170; 3 Campb. 417; 3 Johns. R. 432; 10 Johns. R. 172; 12 Johns. R. 484; 6 Mass. R. 394; 17 Serg. & Rawle, 285; 2 Rawle, R. 241. Trover will be sustained for animals ferae naturae, reclaimed. Hugh. Ab. Action upon the case of Trover and Conversion, pl. 3. But trover will not lie for personal property in the custody of the law, nor when the title to the property can be settled only by a peculiar jurisdiction; as, for example, property taken on the high seas, and claimed as lawful prize, because in such case, the courts of admiralty have exclusive jurisdiction. Cam. & N. 115, 143; but see 14 John. 273. Nor will it lie where the property bailed has been lost by the bailee, or stolen from him, or been destroyed by accident or from negligence case is the proper remedy. 2 Iredell, 98.
     4.-2. The plaintiff must at the time of the conversion have had a property in the chattel either general or special; 1 Yeates, R. 19; 3 S. & R. 509; 15 John. R. 205, 349; 16 John. R. 159; 1 Humph. R. 199; he must also have had actual possession or right to immediate possession. The person who has the absolute or general property in a personal chattel may support this action, although he has never had possession, for it is a rule that the general property of personal chattels creates a constructive possession. 2 Saund. 47 a, note 1; Bac. Ab. Trover, C; 4 Rawle, R. 185. One who has a special property, which consists in the lawful custody of goods with a right of detention against the general owner, may maintain trover. Story, Bailm. 93 n.
     5.-3. There must have been a conversion, which may have been effected, 1st. By the wrongful taking of a personal chattel. 2d. By some other illegal assumption of ownership, or by illegally using or misusing it; or, 3d. By a wrongful detention., Vide Conversion.
     6.-4. The declaration should state that the plaintiff Was possessed of the goods (describing them) as of his own property, and that they came to the defendant's possession by finding; and the conversion should be properly averred, as that is the gist of the action. It is not indispensable to state the price or value of the thing converted. 2 Wash. 192. See 2 Cowen, 592 13 S. & R. 99; 3 Watts, 333; 1 Blackf. 51; 1 South 211; 2 South. 509. Vide form, 2 Chitty's Pl. 370, 371. The usual plea is not guilty, which is the general issue. Bull. N. P. 48.
     7.-5. The verdict should be for the damages sustained, and the measure of such damages is the value of the property at the time of the conversion, with interest. 17 Pick. 1; 7 Monr. 209; 1 Mete. 172; 8 Port. R. 191; 2 Hill, 132; 8 Dana, 192. The judgment, when for the plaintiff, is that he recover his damages and costs; 1 Chit. Pl. 157; when for the defendant, the judgment is that he recover his costs. Vide, generally, 1 Chit. Pl. 147 to 157 Chit. Pr. Index, h.t.; Bac. Ab. h.t.; Dane's Ab. h.t. Vin. Ab. h.t.; Com. Dig. Action upon the case upon trover; Id. Pleader, 2 I; Doct. Pl. 494; Amer. Digests, h.t.; Bouv. Inst. Index, h.t. As to the evidence to be given in actions of trover, see Rose. Civ. Ev. 395 to 412.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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