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MMD > Archives > June 2007 > 2007.06.27 > 07Prev  Next

Limit of Liability When Customer Can't Be Found
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  A blaze of emails and calls came in today in response to the
above named subject.  Also, I spoke to basically everyone from the New
Jersey Attorney General to the secretary at the law library in our

Only one thing is for certain.  While laws generally exist at the state
level concerning abandoned property, it is universally accepted that
if there is no contract stating a specific time limit that a piece of
property can be left at a service business, it is required that the
owner of said business make a "reasonable effort" to contact the owner
of said property - New Jersey State Law (46:30C-1 through 46:30C-4).

A certified letter explaining the business owner's intentions
concerning said property will suffice.  Also, it's wise to pay for
Return Receipt so you have a record of what happened to the piece of
mail.  (By the way, there are specific laws on the books in most states
with regards to cars, boats, and other things that require state

However, everyone I heard from or spoke to was in agreement that if
the customer made no effort within the past 8-10 years to contact me,
I could pretty much safely assume that the instrument has been
abandoned, and that it was mine to do with as I pleased.  Problem is,
their comments were only opinions.

Along the way, I heard some interesting stories, but only one struck
a note that made me feel better about all the time and effort that's
been expended on this matter.  Basically, a finished piece of furniture
had sat around in a service business for many years.  Finally, the
owner put it up for sale and sold it.  The next day, the owner showed
up at his door!  I'm hoping to avoid that scenario altogether...

So, even though I made way more than a 'reasonable effort' by waiting
all of these years, I still have to make a reasonable effort legally.
To do that, I must send certified/return receipt requested letters to
the owner's previous addresses and give them a specific amount of time
in which to respond (30 days was recommended by a lawyer and the law
library secretary).  If they do not respond or if the letters come by
undeliverable, no such person, or no forwarding address, I'm to keep
those letters in a safe place in case they are ever needed, and I can
do as I please with the property after the deadline stated in the
letter.  If the customer(s) do respond, that's a whole other ball game
that I prefer not to look at right now...

In summation, this is just one more case where Murphy's Law raises
it's ugly head.  Loosely stated here: things will go wrong in any
given situation, if you give them a chance.  And it gets to the point
where you have to write up a 10-page legal agreement to insure that
most of your bases are covered, or deal with each problem as they

I think I'll pick the second option.  Basically, it cost me $5.25 to
send one letter, and I had the opportunity to interact with numerous
people who were all willing to help.  That's, as they say, Priceless!
Thanks to all who responded.

John A Tuttle
Brick, New Jersey, USA

(Message sent Wed 27 Jun 2007, 23:27:43 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Be, Can't, Customer, Found, Liability, Limit, When

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