What remedies are available for return of artwork left in care of another?
A life estate is a concept used in common law and statutory law to designate the ownership of land or real property for the duration of a person's life. In legal terms it is an estate in real property that ends at death. The owner of a life estate is called a "life tenant".
A life estate is typically not created in personal property such as artwork.
Although the ownership of a life estate is of limited duration because it ends at the death of the person who is the "measuring life", the owner has the right to enjoy the benefits of ownership of the property, including income derived from rent or other uses of the property, during his or her possession. Because a life estate ceases to exist at the death of the measuring person's life, this temporary ownership agreement cannot be left to heirs (intestate)or devisees (testate), and the life estate cannot normally be inherited (but see Life Estate Pur Autre Vie, and Estate for Term of years). At death, the property involved in a life estate typically falls into the ownership of the remainderman named in the life estate agreement.
A bailment is the act of placing property in the custody and control of another, usually by agreement in which the holder (bailee) is responsible for the safekeeping and return of the property. Examples include securities left with the bank, autos parked in a garage, animals lodged with a kennel, or a storage facility (as long as the goods can be moved and are under the control of the custodian). There are different types of bailments- "bailments for hire" in which the custodian (bailee) is paid, "constructive bailment" when the circumstances create an obligation upon the custodian to protect the goods, and "gratuitous bailment" in which there is no payment, but the bailee is still responsible.
There is a lower standard of care imposed upon the bailee in a gratuitous bailment, and the parties may contract to hold the bailee free from liability in any bailment. As the law of bailments establishes a lower standard of care for the bailee in a gratuitous bailment agreement, such an agreement or receipt should indicate explicitly that the bailee is acting without compensation.
When a bailment is for the exclusive benefit of the bailee, the bailee owes a duty of extraordinary care. If the bailment is for the mutual benefit of the bailee and bailor, the bailee owes a duty of ordinary care. A gratuitous bailee must use only slight care and is liable only for gross negligence.
To create a bailment, the alleged bailee must have actual physical control with the intent to possess. Physical control and intent to possess will be interpreted according to the expectations of the parties. If a court thinks that liability would be unexpected or unfair, it can usually find that the defendant did not have “physical control” or “intent to possess.”
For example, courts are more likely to find a bailment of a car exists in a garage with an attendant than in a park and lock garage.
A bailor is entitled to recover damages for lost or damaged property if he can show that the bailee failed to exercise the required degree of care and proximately caused damage or loss of the property. If the bailee exercised the required degree of care required, then the bailor will not be entitled to damages. With a gratuitous bailment, the bailee will not be liable for damage to the property unless he was grossly negligent.