What is Conversion in Law?

What is Conversion?

Conversion is a term that describes when a person takes something from another person, makes it their own, or generally alters its value without the owner’s permission. Unfortunately, this happens more often than we’d like to think. It could be as simple as someone taking a bicycle that really belongs to someone else, or as major as a neighbor cutting down a beloved tree in their backyard. In any of these cases, conversion is an issue that affects people every day, and it is important to be aware of what it means and how it can be addressed.

What is Conversion in Tort Law?

Conversion, in law, is a type of civil wrong or tort. It involves the wrongful use of someone else’s property, in a way that interferes with their legal rights. This could be anything from taking goods without permission to destroying them or keeping them beyond their rightful ownership. In cases of conversion, the damage must be proven and the act must be intentional – accidental conversions are not recognized by the law.

Understanding Conversion

At its most basic level, conversion refers to an unauthorized transfer of possession of an item from one person to another. To put it another way, conversion is essentially stealing – but with a key difference. Contrary to theft, which involves the taking of an item that has no alteration in value, conversion includes when something is taken and then changed somehow. This could involve physical damage, like the aforementioned example of cutting down a tree, or simply convincing other people that the item now belongs to you when it doesn’t.

Types of Conversion

There are three primary types of conversion: actual, threatened, and constructive. Actual conversion involves physical control over another’s property, such as moving it or using it for personal gain. Threatened conversion occurs when the defendant has threatened to take the property but has not yet done so, while constructive conversion occurs when the defendant exercises such control over the property that it can no longer be freely used by its rightful owner.

Consequences of Conversion

The consequences of conversion can vary greatly depending on the particular case. Most often, damages will be awarded to the plaintiff, including reimbursement for any economic losses they have suffered, or even an award of punitive damages if necessary. In some cases, the courts may also order the defendant to restore the property to its original state or return it to its rightful owner if possible.

Damages for Conversion

When someone wrongfully takes your personal property, you deserve to be compensated. It’s your right as the aggrieved party. Damages are meant to ensure that you receive full compensation for your loss – the value of the property at the time of its taking, plus interest up to the date of trial.

But when the conversion is tainted with fraud, gross negligence, or willful wrongdoing, then an even higher level of damages may be considered. This isn’t meant to unjustly enrich you or punish the wrongdoer; it’s simply a way to maximize the award and send a message that these sorts of serious acts will not be tolerated.

It can be difficult to put a price tag on something that was precious to you and has been taken away from you without permission or justification. But, with the help of courts and legal experts, you can fight for fair restitution and seek justice for what you have lost.

What Are the Elements of Conversion?

To prove conversion in a court of law, the plaintiff must show that the defendant:

  1. Intentionally interfere with the plaintiff’s property;
  2. Acted without authority or legal justification; and
  3. Caused harm or damage to the plaintiff.

When Does Conversion Apply?

The law recognizes many instances when conversion applies, including the following situations:

  • When someone tells others that an item that does not belong to them is theirs (such as lying about owning a chair belonging to a roommate.)
  • When someone damages an item owned by someone else (such as cutting down a tree) and attempts to benefit from it (for example, turning it into firewood).
  • When someone appropriates an item for themselves without permission (like taking a bike without asking).

What are the Causes of Action for Proving Conversion in Court?

When bringing a case for conversion, plaintiffs typically cite one or more of these causes of action:

  • Wrongful taking – This includes the physical taking of an item, such as shoplifting.
  • Wrongful use – Using something without permission from its rightful owner, such as borrowing a car without authorization.
  • Wrongful detention – Refusal to return something that properly belongs to another person, such as holding onto someone else’s property after a lease has ended.
  • Wrongful disposition – Selling or disposing of someone else’s property without their consent, such as pawning off jewelry belonging to another person.


Conversion in law is a complex issue that can potentially lead to both financial and emotional stress. As such, if you believe you have experienced conversion or suspect your rights may have been violated, it is important to speak to an experienced lawyer right away. By doing so, you can ensure that your legal rights are being properly protected and that any potential damages you suffer are appropriately addressed in court.

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