Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Deodand Definition:

An object that has been involved in some personal injury, is forfeit to the government.

A now mostly-abolished concept of the common law to seize any object which participates in injury to a person, to sell that object and to distribute the proceeds to the government (the Crown) or to the poor.

For example, if a dog hurt a person, it became deodand; seized from the owner, given to the Crown and disposed of.

The 1952 edition of Stroud's Judicial Dictionary:

"Whatever personal chattel is the immediate occasion of the death of any reasonable creature, which is forfeited to the King, to be applied to pious uses...."

Cowell's dictionary reflects his ecclesiastic law background:

"Deodand is a thing given, or rather forfeited as it were, to God for the pacification of his wrath, in case of misadventure whereby any Christian man cometh to a violent end, without the fault of any reasonable creature."

In England, deodands were abolished in 1846 (The Deodand Act, 9 & 10 Victoria, Chapter 62).

In his1917 book, Jeudwine wrote:

"If an animal or some inanimate thing killed or injured a person, as where a horse threw a man, or a wheel came off a wagon, or by the action of the wind a tree fell on him, the animal or thing became, somewhat on the principle of a scapegoat, a devoted thing, a deodand, and as such one of the king's perquisites, or was handed down to the Church. Where a woman fell into a tub of boiling water, the tub is deodand."


  • Jeudwine, J. W., Tort, Crime and Police in Medieval Britain: A Review of Some Early Law and Custom (London: Williams & Norgate, 1917), pages 32-33

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