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A bailment occurs when one person (the bailor) delivers possession of some personal property to another person (the bailee). The defining element of the transaction is the requirement that the property be returned to the bailor, or duly accounted for by the bailee, when the purpose of the bailment is accomplished. It is not necessary for a contract to define a bailment; rather, a bailment is created by lawful possession by virtue of an entrustment and "the duty to account for the thing as the property of another.
In May 2008, Mezo checked out nine books from the Warren County Public Library. The due date for returning the books was in June. During the month of May, Mezo moved from Kentucky to Illinois. Instead of returning the books to the library, he asked his mother to return them for him. She put them in a box on her back porch and presumably forgot about them. In August 2008, Mezo began receiving notices from a collection agency concerning the overdue library books. By that time, his mother discovered that the books had been stolen from her back porch, and she filed a report with the Edmonson County Sheriff's Department. Mezo informed the library of the theft but did not reimburse the library for the books' value. Eventually, the collection agency informed credit reporting companies of Mezo's delinquent account. In February 2009, Mezo filed a complaint in Warren Circuit Court and alleged that the library had breached its contract with him by holding him responsible for stolen books, that it defamed Mezo by reporting false information to a collection agency, and that it violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The library answered Mezo's complaint with a motion to dismiss through judgment on the pleadings. The trial court granted the motion.
Does Mezo have a bailment relationship with the library, making him liable for the loss of the books?
The case before the court involves a gratuitous bailment. Mezo lawfully possessed the library's books and clearly understood that he had the duty to return them. He acknowledged their due date and asked his mother to return the books for him. It is noted that the police report pertaining to the theft named the library as the victim -- not Mezo or his mother. Leaving books on a back porch is not the exercise of extraordinary care; certainly, such treatment constitutes at the very least "slight neglect." Though Kentucky courts have not specifically addressed the relationship between a public library and its patrons, the federal Tax Court has spoken on this very issue in a venerable old case: “…the loan of the book was a bailment for the exclusive benefit of the bailee and that petitioner would be liable to the library for the payment of damages to the book arising from slight negligence on his part. By leaving the book unguarded . . . petitioner was guilty of negligence.” In his complaint, Mezo admitted that he had entrusted the books to the care of another person and that they were left unguarded. Mezo was a gratuitous bailee who failed to exercise extraordinary care regarding the library's books. His liability is the inevitable result of his actions.