In our case scenario Bart and Alan bot reside in Boring, Oregon. Alan is the finder of Bart’s lost item before Bart offers a reward. In Contract law a reward offer is binding. In Property law a person has a responsibility to return lost personal property to its rightful owner.
Is Alan entitled to collect a reward before he returns Bart’s object?
MacFarlane v. Bloch, 59 Ore. 1 (Or. 1911)
In the above mentioned case, one party found a pocketbook with a value of over $1,000.00. The finder made a concerted effort to locate the owner by taking out an ad in the local newspaper in the lost and found section of the classified section. The owner also placed an ad for a reward of $100 for the return of his pocketbook. The founder responded to the ad stating that he was in possession on the lost pocketbook. He was told that he needed to return the pocketbook or he would be arrested for larceny. The finder returned the pocketbook and sued for the reward that the owner placed on the return of the pocketbook. It was stated in this case that “the return of the property completed the contract and the owner was liable to offer reward.” When the reward was offered the finder had a lien for the payment against the property. It makes no difference in eyes of the law if the property was found first or if the reward was advertised first. The reward was for the return of the lost property and not for the actual finding of the object. In this case the owner was obligated to pay the finder the $100.00 reward that was advertised.
Wentworth v. Day, 44 Mass. 352 (Mass. 1841)
The owner of a watch placed an ad in the newspaper for the return of his lost watch. In return for the watch, the owner offered a reward. A young boy found the watch and gave it to his father to return to the owner. The father contacted the owner to arrange the exchange of the watch for the reward. The owner refused to honor the reward so the father of the finder refused to return the watch. The court found that the finder was entitled to keep the lost property until the reward was given. Analysis:
In MacFarlane, the court ruled that the finder of lost property has a lien against the property if a reward is offered. Once the owner offers a reward they are obligated to pay the finder for the lost property. They cannot use the ruse of a reward as bait and then threaten criminal charges for the return of the property. In this case as well as our case there was a reward offered and the finder is entitled to receive it as long as they return the lost property. As in the Wentworth case, the court upheld that a promise for a reward must be paid for the return of lost property. The owner promised a reward for the return of his watch and when the finder presented the property for payment of the reward the owner refused. The finder would not return the watch as he now had a lien on the property. The finder prevailed since he was within his legal right to demand the reward. Conclusion:
Alan is entitled to the reward for the return of the pocketbook to Bart. The law does not care if the reward was offered before or after the lost property was found, but the reward is a promise for compensation for the return of the item.