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Rights And Liabilities

The bailment contract embodying general principles of the law of bailments governs the rights and duties of the bailor and bailee. The duty of care that must be exercised by a bailee varies, depending on the type of bailment.

In a bailment for mutual benefit, the bailee must take reasonable care of the bailed property. A bailee who fails to do so may be held liable for any damages incurred from his or her NEGLIGENCE. When a bailor receives the sole benefit from the bailment, the bailee has a lesser duty to care for the property and is financially responsible only if he or she has been grossly negligent or has acted in bad faith in taking care of the property. In contrast, a bailee for whose sole benefit property has been bailed must exercise extraordinary care for the property. The bailee can use the property only in the manner authorized by the terms of the bailment. The bailee is liable for all injuries to the property from failure to properly care for or use it.

Once the purpose of the bailment has been completed, the bailee usually must return the property to the bailor, or account for it, depending upon the terms of the contract. If, through no fault of his or her own, the return of the property is delayed or becomes impossible—for example, when it is lost during the course of the bailment or when a hurricane blows the property into the ocean—the bailee will not be held liable for nondelivery on demand. In all other situations, however, the bailee will be responsible for the TORT of conversion for unjustifiable failure to redeliver the property as well as its unauthorized use.

The provisions of the bailment contract may restrict the liability of a bailee for negligent care or unauthorized use of the property. Such terms may not, however, absolve the bailee from all liability for the consequences of his or her own FRAUD or negligence. The bailor must have notice of all such limitations on liability. The restrictions will be enforced in any action brought for damages as long as the contract does not violate the law or public policy. Similarly, a bailee may extend his or her liability to the bailor by contract provision.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Autopsy to Bill of LadingBailment - Categories, Elements, Rights And Liabilities - Termination