Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio November
The Law & the Planner
BY JONATHAN HOWE
Lost and Found
Who's the rightful owner when something is left
While breathlessly following this summer's fabulous race to
crown a new home-run king, you might think I would have been able
to stop pondering the fine points of the law for a few hours, but,
in fact, several interesting issues came to mind. Like who owns
Mark McGwire's 62nd and 70th home-run balls? The team at bat, the
one in the field, the batter, the pitcher or the catcher whose
glove came up empty? This conundrum may seem very distant from
meeting planning, but such ownership questions do come up when
attendees leave items behind.
The impetus for this article came as debate arose over who was
entitled to the baseball Sammy Sosa sent over the back side of
Wrigley Field onto Waveland Avenue for his 62nd home run of the
year. One guy allegedly caught it and was immediately "mugged," and
the next person to get his hands on the ball ran to get police
protection so he, too, wouldn't be deprived of the prize. After so
much scrambling, how can you determine ownership? They might not be
in as much popular demand, but when papers, a briefcase or a
computer are left behind on a conference table, the planner's
concern is who owns the item and who has what responsibility or
rights to it. If an attendee leaves behind a laptop, does the
person who finds it have a right to claim it (invoking the "finders
keepers, losers weepers" rule)? Has the item been abandoned? Is it
lost? Well, the law, as usual, doesn't provide a whole lot of help
except to say it depends on the intent of the person who left
OWNERSHIP VS. POSSESSION
Property is lost when its owner can't find it and would like to get
it back. The person who finds it has "possession" but not
ownership. The old adage that possession is nine-tenths of
ownership is true, but that one-tenth still can be in control. The
finder legally is required to surrender the item to the loser, but
the finder has possession rights superior to everyone else except
the owner. So, if no one claims that $5,000 laptop you picked up
off a seat in meeting room A, it's yours.
In many states, the finder gains ownership if no claim is made
within a specific period of time, with that period varying from
state to state. So if you or one of your attendees lost the laptop,
make sure everyone - the hotel, the A/V company, the caterer, the
production company, the magician - knows you want it back. If you
don't spread the word, there is generally no obligation on the part
of the finder to seek you out.
There is a legal difference between an item that is lost and one
that is abandoned. An item that has been abandoned was left behind
voluntarily by someone who had no intention of taking it with them.
When papers are left on the meeting table, generally one can assume
the owner didn't want them anymore, no matter if the materials are
legitimate trash, confidential or personal. Just discard them.
The word to the wise is to remind meeting-goers at the end of
each session to please take with them anything they don't want
thrown away. Also, planners should have an agreement with the venue
that before anything of apparent value is taken away, the meeting
professional has to evaluate it.
As a person who, personally, lost a leather notebook when I left
it on a table, I am most sensitive to this issue. Who knows who got
my notebook - not to mention the notes inside? It was my mistake,
but had there been a lost-items policy in place, I might have
gotten my notebook back.
At confidential corporate meetings, attendees who don't take the
materials with them should be requested to turn them in for proper
disposal. To improve document security, some planners number copies
of highly sensitive materials and identify who got which copy. At
the end of the meeting the papers are picked up and destroyed under
the supervision of the planner; he or she can tell by the numbers
who walked away with their sets.
By the way, the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown,
N.Y., now owns both McGwire's and Sosa's 62nd home-run balls, but
as of October 1st had not heard from the fan who caught McGwire's
70th on the last day of the season.
Jonathan T. Howe, Esq., is
a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm of
Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel and
DO YOU HAVE A LEGAL QUESTION?
E-mail your concern to firstname.lastname@example.org and look for expert advice
in a future edition of this M&C column. We regret all questions
cannot be answered.
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