Real Estate & Property Law

Legal Battle Over Space Rock: If Lessee Owns It, Is He Liable to Landlord for Damage?


A legal battle over a large rock is making international headlines.

It all began with a seeming explosion in the Northern Virginia office of Dr. Frank Ciampi. In fact, a tennis-ball-size stone had come hurtling through the roof and hit the spot where he likely would have been sitting if a patient had not canceled his appointment, the London Times recounts.

When Ciampi and his medical partner learned that the rock was a valuable meteorite from beyond the earth’s atmosphere, they decided to give it to the Smithsonian Institution in nearby Washington, D.C. A $5,000 finder’s fee, they decided, should be donated for Haitian earthquake relief efforts. But then their landlord claimed that the meteorite, which could be worth as much as $25,000 to $50,000 is his, since it fell onto his property.

“Of course, in this case, the doctors have a leasehold claim,” opines the Jonathan Turley law blog.

“The property in dispute passed through the landlord’s apartment structure and came to rest in leasehold area. It was embedded in the property, but the landlord gave the doctor’s rights to that property for the length of the lease,” the post explains. “The landlord could not claim cash abandoned in the office by a patient. The question is whether property that passed through the superstructure is subject to such a claim.”

If the doctors successfully claim ownership of the meteorite, though, the blog post muses, could the landlord then successfully sue them for the damage to his building?

Both sides have now lawyered up, and it appears likely that the ownership of the meteorite will now be decided in court, the Times reports.

A Washington Post article provides additional details about the dispute and the valuation of meteorites.

Additional and related coverage:

Associated Press: “Space rock worth thousands stirs ownership debate”

Meteorites USA: “Meteorite Hunting”

Universe Today: “More Chunks of SUV-Smashing Meteorite Found”

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