Cowen v. Pressprich

192 N.Y.S. 242 (App. Term 1921)



The involuntary bailee, as long as his lack of volition continues, is not under the slightest duty to care for or guard the subject of the bailment, and cannot be held, in respect of custody, for what would even be the grossest negligence in the case of a voluntary bailment, but in case the involuntary bailee shall exercise any dominion over the thing so bailed, he becomes as responsible as if he were a voluntary bailee.


The recipient ordered a securities bond from the deliverer, who ordered it from a third party. The third party shipped the wrong bond, and the deliverer's messenger gave it to the recipient. Shortly after delivery, the recipient realized the mistake and returned the bond to the purported messenger, who was an imposter. The deliverer brought an action for conversion against the recipient and prevailed in the lower court.


Did the recipient, an involuntary bailee, owe the same duty of care as a voluntary bailee, such that he had a duty to return the goods to the right person?




The court held that an involuntary bailee that exercised dominion over an item owed the same duty of care as a voluntary bailee, to deliver the bailed article to the right person. The delivery of an item in mistake for one that was ordered, the fact that the recipient could not see the messenger when the bond was delivered, and the relative ease with which the recipient could have called the deliverer or had its own messenger return the bond to the deliverer itself, gave rise to a duty on the part of the recipient to deliver the bond to its proper owner. 

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