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Bob borrowed a book from the library and months later, accidentally dropped his bag (with the book in it) in a river. He retrieves the bag, but the book is ruined, being all sandy and wet. What is the consequence of this accident legally speaking?

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    is there someplace where why an object is damaged affects the requirement to replace it?
    – Tiger Guy
    Commented Jun 28, 2023 at 16:46
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    Minus one vote for bloody Bob again. If it's not him it's Alice. What's wrong with 'someone'? Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 12:54
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    Nothing, but what’s wrong with Bob? Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 13:34
  • Tiger apparently in common law there are no damages for a genuine accident. Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 13:35
  • "Genuine accidents" give rise to damages every day. The question is not whether the injury a rose from an accident, but whether that accident was a foreseeable consequence of the defendant's conduct.
    – bdb484
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 11:32

2 Answers 2

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If this is a public library in England or Wales, then they are allowed to charge for lost or damaged items, at their discretion, even though there is a general duty for libraries to make their normal lending services available free of charge.

The Library Charges (England and Wales) Regulations 1991, a statutory instrument made under section 8 of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 of says this in regulation 3(2)(e):

A relevant authority may make a charge [...] in respect of library apparatus, library material and any other equipment or thing used in providing the library service which is lost, damaged or destroyed by, or whilst on loan to, the person paying the charge.

Similarly, they can charge for late return of items, and for various special services. "Library material" includes "words, figures, images, sounds or data recorded in or on any medium", which certainly covers books - even picture books. The library has broad discretion as to the amount and terms of any charge, but the replacement cost of the lost item is a typical starting point.

Whether it was Bob's fault that he dropped the book in the river is irrelevant. He is on the hook for the charge. Potentially, he could claim against somebody else if they had damaged the book and thus caused him to suffer a financial loss, but that does not affect the fact that Bob has to pay the library.

While other libraries could make this part of their contractual terms for using the service, this specific regulatory provision is necessary because the default position for public libraries is that they cannot charge any fees to local residents for borrowing books; this aspect of their operations is a matter of public law, as opposed to a contract between the library and any given local resident.

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    Local authorities in the UK usually have a bye-law that 'failing to return a library book when required to do so by the Borough Librarian' is a magistrate's court offence, punishable by a fine, costs, and the price of the book. I got caught this way when I lost a book in the 1970s. I had moved house and couldn't find it, and all the Borough Librarian's letters went to my old address. They eventually found me, I went to court and paid £5 fine, £5 costs and £5 for the book. I later found the book, in perfect condition, in a crate. The library didn't want it back. 'It's yours now', the guy said. Commented Jun 29, 2023 at 13:02
  • This is also the situation where I live, in Scotland: fines are a matter of local by-laws.
    – alexg
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 15:26
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As a condition of use of the library Bob will have agreed (A) to pay a fine for late returns and (B) to pay for replacing damaged books (either a flat rate or the specific cost, depending on the library).

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