A bailment is a holding of personal property by one person which belongs to another under a contract or legal duty to redeliver to that other either in the same or altered form or disposed of for that other according to the purposes of the bailment.
The term "bailment" signifies a situation in which one person holds personal property, the ownership of which is in another. Ownership and possession are separated. And the person who has the possession is under obligation to return the same goods, either in the same or altered form to the owner, or dispose of them for his benefit, when the purpose of the bailment shall have been accomplished.1
The party who is entitled to the goods is called the bailor; the party who holds them is called the bailee.
Whenever a person holds personal property that he does not own, there is a bailment. It is very frequently said that a bailment signifies a delivery and that delivery is an essential element of a bailment, but this is certainly
I. Wentworth v. Riggs, 143 N. Y. S. 955.
error, for it ignores cases of finding, theft, etc., in which the holder is a bailee, and there cannot be said to be a delivery except by a fiction, although ordinarily in any commercial bailment there is delivery.
The idea underlying bailment is that the person who holds does not own, but that he holds for another goods which he is under obligation to restore to that other because that other is the owner thereof. It follows that if he must restore the same goods received by him, although in an altered form, there is a bailment.
Example 1. K delivered to C timber to be made into lumber for K. Held, a bailment. K was the owner of the lumber as well as of the logs.la (If it had been C's undertaking to return the same lumber, or lumber equally as good, or to pay for the lumber, C would not have been bailee, but owner. See further in this chapter.)
The idea of bailment implies a full and complete possession by the bailee, so that he is responsible for the safety of the thing. Thus it has been held that a restaurant keeper is not a bailee of an overcoat hung by the guest upon a hook within a few feet of where he was sitting.2
1. Bailments for sole benefit of bailor (A asks B as a favor to keep property for him).
2. Bailments for sole benefit of bailee (B borrows from A).
3. Bailments for benefit of both:
(a) Bailments of mere keeping (warehousemen, agents, etc.).
1a. Chaffin v. State, 5 Ga. Ap. 368, 63 S. E. 230. 2. Wentworth v. Riggs, supra.
(b) Bailments of carriage (private carriers).
(c) Bailments of goods delivered to another to do work upon.
(d) Bailments of goods delivered to another to do work with.
(e) Bailments for security (pledges).
(f) Bailments of vendor in possession after sale. 4. Fortuitous bailments, etc. (bailments arising out of finding, salvage, theft, etc.).