COA: Moving company failed to exercise ordinary care to evictee for stolen items

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A moving company failed to exercise a duty of ordinary care to a woman whose belongings were stolen after she was evicted from her home, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled.

Promptly after Jacqueline Renee Chaney was evicted from her apartment in October 2020, Chaney’s landlord, First Key Homes, LLC, was granted immediate possession of the apartment. Nick’s Packing Services, Inc. was hired to help with the moving and eviction, arriving with a Pike Township deputy constable to remove all persons from the location and to change the locks.

A Nick’s Packing employee took an inventory of the items that Chaney had been unable to take with her, which included two flat screen TV’s, and taped it to the outside of the door.

Unable to retrieve all of the items in the apartment in one day, Nick’s Packaging came back the following day to retrieve Chaney’s remaining items, which would be held at a storage facility until she came to get them. However, upon arrival the crew found the door unlocked and a window busted inside. Everything still left in the apartment of value was gone.

Nick’s didn’t report the missing items or notify Chaney.

After Chaney learned that her belongings were missing, she filed a notice of claim in the Pike Township Small Claims Court alleging that Nick’s Packing had failed to return the items she left in its possession.

She requested $8,000 in damages, but the trial court only awarded her $2,500 after issuing judgment in her favor following a bench trial. The trial court concluded that a bailment was created when Nick’s Packing took possession of Chaney’s belongings.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana affirmed in Nick’s Packing Services, Inc. v. Jacqueline Renee Chaney, 21A-SC-820, finding itself unconvinced by Nick’s Packing’s claim that it had no access to the items. It concluded that Nick’s Packing therefore had the burden of explaining why Chaney’s belongings were never returned to her and demonstrating that the loss of those items was not its fault.

“However, as the trial court noted in its judgment, Nick’s Packing did not present any evidence to explain the loss of Chaney’s belongings,” Judge Paul D. Mathias wrote. “Nick’s Packing assumed that ‘the tenant had come in and taken what [she] wanted,’ but that unsupported assumption does not explain why the list of Chaney’s belongings — including two flat-screen TV’s — was taped to the apartment’s front door. Nick’s Packing also failed to explain why it contacted neither Chaney nor law enforcement when it discovered that the apartment’s window had been broken out and that the items listed on the inventory sheet, including the two TV’s, were no longer inside the apartment.”

“…We therefore conclude, commensurate with the trial court’s judgment, that as bailee of Chaney’s belongings, Nick’s Packing failed to exercise a duty of ordinary care.”

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