Our last blog talked about a case where possession of “lost “cash did not result in the “finder” of the cash ending up with it. In a famous “treasure trove” case involving Mel Fisher and the wreck of the Atocha, the opposite result was reached. The Spanish ship Atocha sunk in the sea off the Marquesas Keys, in 1622 while on route Spain. Throughout history it was thought that the Atocha contained gold and other valuables. The treasure hunter, Mel Fisher, eventually found the Atocha after years of searching in the 1970s and recovered millions of dollars’ worth of artifacts. The State of Florida, the United States Government and the Government of Spain eventually made claims to ownership of the lost treasure. The court awarded Fisher possession of the salvage, reasoning that the title to abandoned property vests in the person who reduces that property to his or her possession. The court reasoned that disposition of a wrecked vessel whose very location has been lost for centuries as though its owner was still in existence, stretches a fiction to absurd lengths.
So, what we learned from these cases is: if property has been lost for centuries, “finders, keepers”. However, if the rightful owner of the lost property (or the daughter of the owner) is still around to claim it after it is found, “losers weepers”.
We hope that you now more fully appreciate the nuances of those famous legal principles – “finders keepers, losers weepers” and “possession is 9/10 of the law.”

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