Legalese Explained: What Is A “Bailee”, And Are You One?

By Bob Miles

A bailee is someone who has possession of someone else’s property. There are two kinds of bailees:

(1) A “true bailee” or a “bailee under a bailment transaction”: This is someone who takes possession of another’s property with the owner’s consent – you borrow someone’s car, for example. When you take your car to the mechanic, the mechanic is a true bailee, and when you check your coat in the coat check at a nightclub, the nightclub is a true bailee.

If you are a true bailee, you are generally liable for return of the owner’s property, even if someone knocks you over the head and steals it, or if lighting strikes it and destroys it. It is possible to limit your liability through use of a disclaimer (“This establishment is not responsible for loss or damage to checked items”), but many states will not enforce a disclaimer that attempts to relieve the bailee of liability for gross (extreme) negligence or intentional misconsuct.


(2) A “constructive bailee” (also known as “involuntary bailee”) is someone who has possession of the property of another without the owner’s consent. If you find someone’s wallet on the street, or even if you pick someone’s pocket, guess what? You have become a constructive bailee. If you are a constructive bailee, then you are liable for the property’s loss or destruction only if you were negligent in handling it (thieves can be held liable under a different legal theory).

What about the parking lot where you park your car? The person who controls it (the owner or the renter)is not a bailee unless the parking lot has an attendant. That’s because the whoever controls the parking lot (owns it or rents it) never took possession of your car as long as you drove it in yourself. But the next time you park your car in a parking lot with an attendant, read the fine print on the ticket and it will probably say something like “No bailment is created”. Believe it or not, that ticket is a bailment contract that you “signed” by paying your money, parking your car, and taking the ticket.

DISCLAIMER: The following is intended for reference only and not as legal advice.

About the Author: Real Estate Law in Plain English explains real estate law without the legalese.


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