As kids we learn the nursery rhyme “finders keepers, losers weepers”. However, when it comes to finding a lost item in a business…it’s not that simple.
The origin of the “finders keepers” saying is rooted in the English case of Armory v Delamirie in 1722. Armory was a young boy working as a chimney sweep. He found a jeweled ring in a pile of ash and took it to a jeweler to have it valued. However, the jeweler removed the jewels; gave back the ring, and said the ring was worth only three halfpence.
Armory was not the owner of the jewels, rather the finder. The true owner was unknown. Until the owner was found, however, the court held that Armory had the right to possess what he found. Today, each state has property laws concerning found property. Yet, this nearly 300 year old finders rule still applies to many – but not all – situations.
The finder of property generally has title of it over subsequent claimants…but not over the true owner. So, what happens if an employee finds an item – valuable or not – in a retail store or other type of business? May he/she keep it? The answer is “no”. The found property would revert to the real estate owner’s possession until the true owner is found. In commerce, finders are not keepers. The nursery rhyme was wrong.
When a personal item is unintentionally left behind by a customer it’s considered lost. When placed-down intentionally, then forgotten, the property is considered mislaid. For example, if a customer puts her sunglasses on the service desk and forgets them…she has not lost the glasses. The glasses are mislaid. If the glasses fall from her handbag they are lost. Whether lost of simply mislaid, however, the sunglasses are still owned by the customer.
A finder only becomes an owner if the customer gives up her claim to ownership. This is known as abandonment. However, a customer is unlikely to abandoned something lost or mislaid in a business. Rather, she has an expectation that the finder will contact her. This final point gets to why the real estate owner would get ownership if the property goes unclaimed. Customers would expect a business or property owner to protect her interests.
These scenarios can get thorny in-practice, which is why it’s a good idea to have a lost and found policy. Florida code chapter 705 outlines the rules finders must follow. In Florida, finders who fail to comply with the law can be charged with theft.
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