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What is conversion?

Conversion, considered a form of theft, is the unauthorized use or possession of someone else’s property permanently or indefinitely. More specifically, if a person takes or uses the property that belongs to someone else without permission and intends to keep or dispose of it in a way inconsistent with the owner’s rights, that person might be liable for conversion. Conversion can result in both criminal punishment and civil punishment.

For example, if a friend takes another’s car without permission and intends to either keep it for personal use or sell it, the friend would likely be liable for conversion because he took it without authorization and intended to deprive the owner.

Need help with a conversion situation? Schedule your consultation today with a top business litigation attorney.

What legal issues typically arise related to conversion?

The following disputes are among the most common to conversion:

  • Proving intent: Proving that the defendant intended to convert the property is crucial in a conversion case. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant took or used the property with the intent to keep it or dispose of it in a way that would deprive the owner of their rights.
  • Ownership: The plaintiff must show they owned the defendant improperly converted the property. Deeds, titles, bills of sale, photographs, and other evidence associating the item with the plaintiff may help prove ownership.

What are relevant laws related to conversion in Florida?

Most of the laws regarding conversion have come from judge-made laws comprising the common law. This body of law originated from common law actions that modern courts have since refined. Within these cases, judges have determined the elements of conversion, appropriate remedies for conversion, and what types of claims constitute conversion.

Typical conversion cases include (1) someone taking possession of another’s possessions without permission; and (2) a business owner alleging a former employee took company property without authorization.

In Florida, the statute most related to conversion is Section 95.11, which sets the statute of limitations for conversion at four years.

What is required to prove a case of conversion in Florida?

The elements required to plead a case of conversion under Florida law successfully are:

  • The plaintiff’s ownership or right to possession of the property;
  • The defendant’s conversion by a wrongful act or in a manner that is inconsistent with the plaintiff’s property rights; and
  • Resulting damages.

Critically, under Florida law, there is no requirement that the property has a particular monetary value to allege conversion.

When a set of facts is appropriate to meet the requirements of conversion, there are many paths a claimant may take. We are value-based attorneys at Jimerson Birr, which means we look at each action with our clients from the point of view of costs and benefits while reducing liability. Then, based on our client’s objectives, we chart a path forward to seek appropriate remedies, such as:

  • Monetary damages: If a plaintiff is successful in a civil conversion case, the court may award damages, including compensatory damages. These damages may include the value of the property taken, any expenses incurred due to the conversion, and in some cases, punitive damages.
  • Return of property: If the property is in a returnable condition, a court may order the defendant to return the property to the rightful owner.
  • Injunctions: If there is a chance that the defendant’s behavior could continue, a court may issue an injunction, which is a court order that prohibits the defendant from continuing to engage in the behavior that led to the conversion.

To see what actions may be available for your unique situation, please contact our office to set up your initial consultation.

What are common defenses to conversion in Florida?

The primary defenses to conversion in Florida include:

  • Lack of intent: One of the critical elements of conversion is intent. If the defendant can show that the defendant did not intend to convert the property, they may be able to avoid conviction.
  • Right of possession: If the defendant can show that they had a legal right to possess the property, including permission from the owner, they may be able to use this as a defense. For example, if the defendant can show that they had a lease or rental agreement for the property, they may be able to argue that they had a right to possess it.
  • Lack of ownership: The plaintiff must prove that the property belonged to the person bringing the charges. The judge may dismiss the case if the defense can demonstrate that the property did not belong to the person bringing the charges.
  • Statute of limitations: The defendant may argue that the statute of limitation bars the plaintiff’s claim, which, in Florida, is two years from the date of the alleged conversion.

When defending against a conversion claim, one core strategy is to focus on alleging that the defendant had no intent to use or possess the property in a way inconsistent with the owner’s claim. If it can be shown the intent was lacking, the conversion claim will likely fail. The defendant could disprove intent by arguing (1) they had the right to use the item; (2) they mistakenly believed the item was theirs; or (3) they returned the property.

To see what defenses may be available for your unique situation, please contact our office to set up your initial consultation.

Have more questions about a conversion-related situation?

Crucially, this overview of conversion does not begin to cover all the laws implicated by this issue or the factors that may compel the application of such laws. Every case is unique, and the laws can produce different outcomes depending on the individual circumstances.

Jimerson Birr attorneys guide our clients to help make informed decisions while ensuring their rights are respected and protected. Our lawyers are highly trained and experienced in the nuances of the law, so they can accurately interpret statutes and case law and holistically prepare individuals or companies for their legal endeavors. Through this intense personal investment and advocacy, our lawyers will help resolve the issue’s complicated legal problems efficiently and effectively.

Having a Jimerson Birr attorney on your side means securing a team of seasoned, multi-dimensional, cross-functional legal professionals. Whether it is a transaction, an operational issue, a regulatory challenge, or a contested legal predicament that may require court intervention, we remain a tireless advocate every step of the way. Being a value-added law firm means putting the client at the forefront of everything we do. We use our experience to help our clients navigate even the most complex problems and come out the other side triumphant.

If you want to understand your case, the merits of your claim or defense, potential monetary awards, or the amount of exposure you face, you should speak with a qualified Jimerson Birr lawyer. Our experienced team of attorneys is here to help. Call Jimerson Birr at (904) 389-0050 or use the contact form to set up a consultation.

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