Is a cleaning service liable if I hired them to clean a house and an item was accidentally taken then returned and left in my garage but was then stolen?

I labeled an item not to be dumped but one of the contractor’s employees took it. The contractor admitted via text he had the item and it was his fault. We made no agreement on how he was to return the item. Then 3 weeks later the contractor left the item in the house’s garage while no one was home. He had his family with him when he dropped off the item. About 3 days later I returned to the house and the item was missing. I filed a burglary police report. The contractor refuses to pay for the item. Do I have a winnable case here?

Asked on October 24, 2015 under Business Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

Yes, you likely do have a winning case: 
1) The loss occured in the first place because he intentionally took--i.e. stole--the object. That he was later willing to return it does NOT wipe or cancel out the fact that he stole it in the first instance. Someone who steals an object is liable for its loss, because its loss effectively occured when he took possession.
2) Furthermore, he was negligent, or unreasonably careless, in leaving the item unsecured, when no one was there, and without your agreement or consent as to how or where or when he'd return it.
Therefore, there are two bases for holding him liavle for the item's loss.
Bear in mind, before suing, that you can only recover the then-current fair market value of the item: not its orginal cost, and not any sentimental or emotional value.


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