Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Although people enter into bailment agreements every day, the diversity and significance of bailments generally are unknown to lay persons and ignored by lawyers. This neglect stems in part from the antiquity of bailment and from its overlap with other branches of the law.' One commentator has stated that "bailment stands at the point at which contract, tort, and property law converge," representing a contractual conveyance of personal property that is enforceable in tort. Although bailment draws from other areas of the law, it retains a separate legal personality whose independent character has yet to be fully explored.The term "bailment," commonly defined as "the rightful possession of goods by one who is not the owner," is derived from the French verb bailler, which means "to deliver."' The elements required to create most bailments include the intent to establish a bailment relationship,the bailor's delivery of the property to the bailee, and the bailee's acceptance of the item. In order for a valid bailment to arise, the bailee must obtain possession of the bailed property. If the bailee fails to take possession, no bailment exists, and none of the rights and obligations incident to a bailment are established." Possession in the bailment context consists of two elements: the bailee's exercise of physical control over the bailed property and the bailee's intent to exercise physical control. Many items may be balled-some ordinary, such as cars, film,and laundry,' and others rather unusual, such as prunes" and dead bodies. The bailment concept, however, is limited to tangible personal property" and generally does not extend to either real or intangible property.