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Understanding the difference between lost and mislaid property

Say that someone in Clarksville comes across an item that appears to have been lost, such as a cell phone, a laptop computer or a jacket. Is he or she entitled to keep whatever it is that was found? Or better yet, can the owner of that item later find that person and accuse him or her theft? The answer to these questions comes from understanding the different legal classifications of lost property.

The Legal Information Institute states that found property can be classified as either lost or mislaid. Lost property is that which was unintentionally lost by an owner. In reference to the items mentioned above, if such things were found on a sidewalk or in a park, then one might assume that the owner did not know that they might have been left there. Mislaid property, on the other hand, is that which was meant for use, but then forgotten by the owner. Again, the items referenced above might be considered mislaid if one found them on a seat at a restaurant, or a desk in an office.

The general expectation with mislaid property is typically that it will be turned in to whomever owns or manages the location where it was found. However, property owners may not be obliged to accept it. Thus, like lost property, one could reasonably end up retaining possession of forgotten items for an extended period of time.

Tennessee state statutes cited in documents prepared by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville show that it is an acceptable defense to an accusation of theft if one acted in honest belief that he or she had the right to assume control of property. Such a defense may apply in a case were an owner of lost or mislaid property accuses its founder of theft.