Unilateral and Mutual Benefit Bailments
Characteristics of Bailments
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What is a Unilateral Benefit Bailment?
A unilateral benefit bailment is a situation where either the bailor or the bailee receives a benefit from the bailment, while the other party does not. This situation may arise as a gift or favor by one party to the other.
- Example: Sam agrees to look after Judys car while she is on vacation. This is a unilateral benefit bailment in favor of Judy (the bailor). If Judy later loans her car to Sam for him to drive while his car is being repaired, this is a unilateral benefit bailment in favor of Sam (the bailee).
What is a Mutual Benefit Bailment?
A mutual-benefit bailment provides a benefit to the bailor and bailee. Generally, a mutual benefit bailment is pursuant to an enforceable contract, as there is an exchange of value that is the impetus of the relationship.
- Example: Ralph agrees to fix Lauras chainsaw if he can use it to cut up some trees that fell on his property. This is an enforceable contract. Since the contract involves Ralph holding Sandras property and returning it at some point in the future, the relationship constitutes a mutual-benefit bailment. Any situation where the bailee is paid to hold or dispose of the property is a mutual-benefit bailment. In business, most bailments are mutual benefit.
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What are the Rights of the Bailor?
The bailor generally has the right to receive return of the property (or any proceeds derived from disposing of the property).
What are the rights of a Bailee?
The bailee generally has the right to possess the bailed item, the right to use it (unless otherwise limited in the bailment agreement), the right of compensation (if provided for in the bailment agreement), and may have the right to limited personal liability or indemnification by the bailor for potential liability arising from the bailee carrying out her duties.
What are the Duties of a Bailor?
In a unilateral-benefit bailment, the bailor must reveal any defects in the bailed item. She warrants that there are no defects in the bailed object that could have been discovered through reasonable inspection.
What are the Duties of a Bailee?
Bailee has an absolute duty to return the object to the bailor or to dispose of it as the bailor directs. The bailee is potentially liable to the bailor for failing to do so.
What is a Bailor's Standard of Care?
The bailor must take reasonable care to protect the bailee from known risks in the bailment relationship.
What is a Bailee's Standard of Care?
The bailees duty of care in the bailment relationship depends upon the nature of the bailment. In a mutual benefit bailment, the bailee generally must exercise reasonable care in taking care of the bailed property. If the bailment is a unilateral benefit for the bailee, the bailee owes a higher standard of care in carrying out her bailment duties. The standard of care is lower if the bailment relationship is a unilateral benefit for the bailor. This could mean that the bailee avoid recklessness in carrying out her duties.
Numerous special bailment relationships exist that may entail higher levels of care for the bailee. For example, some jurisdiction make common carriers strictly liable for any damages to the bailed property (such as a package shipped with a common carrier). The bailee may have limited rights to disclaim some level of liability. Further, some jurisdictions make hotels and motels strictly liable for losses to property held as part of the business-client relationship (such as goods stolen from the hotel room).
Discussion: Do you believe that there should be a difference in duties between unilateral and mutual benefit bailments? Should the duties be stronger for the bailor or bailee in either situation? Why or why not?
Practice Question: Ralph asks Arnold to watch his car while he is on vacation. Arnold agrees under the condition that he get to drive it whenever he wants. Ralph agrees and hands over the keys before heading on vacation. Arnold drives Ralphs car to a bar. He drinks too much and has to take a taxi home. The next day he returns and someone has vandalized Ralphs car. Is Arnold potentially liable in this situation?
- Yes. A mutual benefit bailment refers to a situation where both the bailee and the bailor benefit. This is because the parties benefit in a certain way from the bailment contract. This arises from the fact that there exists an exchange of performances between the parties. Under the mutual benefit bailment, the bailee takes possession of the property from the bailor who remains as the real owner of the property. During the period that the bailee has possession of the property, he must take care of the property and return the property in good condition upon the lapse of the agreed time. If the bailee fails to return the property within the agreed time or in good condition, the bailor will have a right to sue the bailee for the damages there in. In the practice question, Arnold is liable for the damage done to Ralph's car.