Legal-Ease: Law on lost or misplaced items

We sometimes see images on TV of trucks full of money that wreck and create a blizzard-like cloud of cash that lands all over an interstate highway. Of course, in these circumstances, TV includes images of people jumping out of their cars to try to grab the cash.

Unfortunately for the people who stop their cars in these circumstances, the law is clear that people are not allowed to keep the money that they may get from a wrecked armored truck that has lost at least part of its load of money.

With that being said, we all sometimes lose track of where we may have placed things. Things intentionally placed somewhere but not retrieved from that intentional place are legally called “misplaced.”

In contrast, if we drop something or otherwise lose something in a specific place that we did not intend for the item to end up, the law calls that item “lost.”

Items are considered legally lost or misplaced regardless of whether they have been reported to law enforcement as being lost or misplaced. The circumstances of where an item is located along with the item’s condition determine whether an item is lost or misplaced.

Items that leave their owners’ possession (either lost or misplaced) are the property of those items’ owners. Thus, when cash is floating downwind from a wrecked armored truck on its side, it is clear that the money belongs to and with the armored truck.

People may think that no one can track that money in those circumstances, but today’s world has cameras recording all the time all over the place. The owner of a licensed car that is stopped amidst an avalanche of cash is likely to be found and required to return the cash.

The rules change when the actual owner cannot be identified or located. If a person finds an item that is lost without an ability to find the actual owner, the finder becomes the owner of that lost item. Otherwise stated, for lost items without identified owners, the law is finder’s keepers.

For example, I may find a wallet in the parking lot of the Farmhouse Market & Deli in Columbus Grove. Let’s presume that the wallet contains only cash and no other cards, papers or other items that identify the wallet’s owner. A wallet left in a parking lot is likely lost — not misplaced. If the wallet is not ultimately retrieved or the owner cannot prove ownership, I keep the wallet of money.

However, the law is different when an item is misplaced. Misplaced items for which the owner cannot be identified/found ultimately belong to the owner of the place where the misplaced item was found.

Thus, I may find a cash-filled wallet without identification left on the sale/purchase checkout space at the Farmhouse Market & Deli. Such a wallet at that location would be considered “misplaced.” That misplaced wallet (if not retrieved or proved to be owned by someone) belongs to the Farmhouse Market & Deli.

Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.


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