If Airplane Parts Land On Your Lawn, Can You Keep Them? We Find Out.

Illustration for article titled If Airplane Parts Land On Your Lawn, Can You Keep Them? We Find Out.
Photo: Broomfield Police

Remember early this week when that Boeing 777's right-side engine failed, blowing off the entire engine housing and other parts, which rained down onto the Denver-area homes below? Of course you do, it was in all the papers that your local newsies were hawking. You may also recall seeing amazing pictures of homes with massive airplane parts sitting in their front yards. If you’re like me, you probably wondered, hey, if that happens to your house, can you keep that massive aluminum bezel? What’s the deal with that? Well, to find out , I asked a lawyer if you can keep shit that falls from the sky into your yard.

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I think it was these photos in particular that really got me thinking:

Here’s the closer shot:

I mean, that’s a whole entire aircraft engine nacelle bezel; a lot of well-machined aluminum and rivets, with just a little bit of damage there. As a homeowner, I’d be thinking about what a fantastic fire pit or hot tub I could make with that thing—when else are you going to have a huge aluminum ring literally dropped on your lawn?

So, to find out if the homeowner could claim these parts — assuming that they’d have to at least release them during the investigation to find out what happened — I reached out to a lawyer in Colorado who has experience with this type of law, Rohn Robbins.

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Here’s what Mr. Robbins, esq. told me about the homeowner being able to claim these airplane parts:

Essentially, no.

A general precept of the law of lost property is that a finder of property acquires no rights in mislaid property, is entitled to possession of lost property against everyone except the true owner, and is entitled to keep abandoned property. As the true owner here is both known and has a superior claim, its interest is superior to the finder’s.

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The concepts of mislaid and lost property are a little tricky here, but I found a good explanation:

Mislaid property refers to items that were intentionally left in a place by the owner but are accidentally left behind. Any property that is intentionally set down by the owner to use later that is challenging to find is considered mislaid property. Examples of mislaid property can be cellphones left at restaurants or on a desk in an office. Lost property, on the other hand, is that which was unintentionally lost by an owner.

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I think these engine bits count as lost since they were very unintentionally placed on that person’s lawn as opposed to covering the engine of that airplane. In the case of lost property, if the true owner is known, then the finder has no entitlement to possession, and here the owner, United Airlines, is very known.

Now, if there were no reports of an airplane losing engine parts and no airline came forward to say they lost the parts, and there were no identifying markings or serial numbers or anything on the parts, then I suspect the homeowner might be able to claim the parts.

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In this case, I think it would be similar to a meteorite landing on your lawn, which would entitle the property owner to possess it.

But, in this specific case, where we know exactly what aircraft those parts came from then I’m afraid that homeowner will have to hope for an anonymous Boeing engine bezel to fall on their property again if they want that aluminum fire pit.

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus, 2020 Changli EV • Not-so-running: 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!: https://rb.gy/udnqhh)

DISCUSSION

From US Code 49 USC §1155(b):

(b)Criminal Penalty.—

A person that knowingly and without authority removes, conceals, or withholds a part of a civil aircraft involved in an accident, or property on the aircraft at the time of the accident, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.”

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/49/1155

So yeah, if parts come raining down on your property you don’t get to keep them.