Finders Keepers?

Tim Horton’s annual promotion “Rrroll Up the Rim to Win” began on February 20, 2012 . According to their website, the promotion will run as long as cup supplies last. All prizes must be redeemed by May 20, 2012.

Whenever this promotion begins, I am reminded of a case in 2006 when a 10-year old Quebec girl who found a winning cup with the grand prize of a Toyota SUV. The girl found the discarded cup in the garbage can at her school. Unable to roll up the rim on her own, she enlisted the help of an older classmate. The 12 year old friend obliged and both girls found they had a winning cup in their hands. Things got ugly when the mother of the second child sought a half-share of the car, which was valued at $33,000. A janitor at the school also came forward to argue that the prize should be his as he bought the coffee and had thrown away the cup.

Tim Hortons decided to use the ‘finders keepers’ rule to settle the dispute and awarded the car to the first girl.

What is the finders keepers rule?

General Rule

The general rule is that the finder of a lost chattel is entitled to it against all but the true owner or those who can claim through the true owner.  The finder acquires no rights unless the item has been abandoned or lost and he or she takes it into his or her care and control.

If Found in Course of Employment….May Be Claimed By Employer

If the article is found by an employee or agent in the course of his or her employment or agency, the employer, in absence of an agreement to the contrary, acquires possession to the exclusion of the employee or agent finder.

Occupier of Land May Have a Superior Claim

The general rule does not apply if the chattel is attached to land or embedded in soil, in which case the occupier of the land acquires possession of the chattel found on it by a stranger or employee if the occupier had a manifest intention to exercise control over the land and the things in or upon it, whether or not the occupier has knowledge of the existence of the chattel. Therefore, in the famous case of Park v British Airways in which a man found a piece of gold jewellery in British Airways lounge,it was found that because it was in a public place where the airline could not have intended to exercise control over, the man had the better claim to the item than the airline, good against all but the true owner.

Dishonesty / Trespass

The general rule might also not apply if the finder takes the item into his or her care and control with dishonest intent or in the course of trespassing. But even in the case of trespassers, the trespasser may have a right of possession where the true owner could not be found, and there are no other claimants.

Applied to Tim Horton’s Case

Applying this to the facts of this case, for the first girl to be found the owner of the roll up the rim cup, Tim Horton’s must have concluded that the true owner had abandoned it, and therefore, the first girl who found it was entitled to it. Although she was aided by the second girl, the first girl never gave the item up and it was still in her care and control.

Therefore, think twice before you discard your Tim Horton’s cup next time – if it turns out to be a winner you may have forfeited your claim to it by abandoning it!

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