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Preservation of Property
  • 1 Ploof v. Putnam -- "The Private Island in a Storm"

    In order to accommodate plaintiff’s need to protect his/her own life or property, should society privilege him/her with the right to interfere with another’s property?

    Notes: Plaintiff, his wife, and children were out on a lake in plaintiff’s boat during sudden storm. In order to avoid the risk of harm to his family and property, the plaintiff moored his boat to the defendant’s private island in the middle of the lake. Defendant’s servant unmoored the boat, causing the boat to be destroyed and casting the plaintiff, his wife, and children into the water.
    1

    71 A. 188
    81 Vt. 471

    2
    PLOOF 
    v.
    PUTNAM.
    3

    Supreme Court of Vermont. Chittenden.

    4

    Oct. 2, 1908.

    5

    Exceptions from Chittenden County Court; Seneca Haselton, Judge.

    6

    Action by Sylvester A. Ploof against Henry W. Putnam. Heard on demurrer to declaration. Demurrer overruled, and declaration adjudged sufficient, and defendant excepted. Judgment affirmed, and cause remanded.

    7

    Martin S. Vilas and Cowles & Moulton, for plaintiff.

    8

    Batchelder & Bates, for defendant.

    9
    MUNSON, J.
    10

    It is alleged as the ground of recovery that on the 13th day of November, 1904, the defendant was the owner of a certain island in Lake Champlain, and of a certain dock attached thereto, which island and dock were then in charge of the defendant's servant; that the plaintiff was then possessed of and sailing upon said lake a certain loaded sloop, on which were the plaintiff and his wife and two minor children; that there then arose a sudden and violent tempest, whereby the sloop and the property and persons therein were placed in great danger of destruction; that, to save these from destruction or injury, the plaintiff was compelled to, and did, moor the sloop to defendant's dock; that the defendant, by his servant, unmoored the sloop, whereupon [71 A. 189] it was driven upon the shore by the tempest, without the plaintiff's fault; and that the sloop and its contents were thereby destroyed, and the plaintiff and his wife and children cast into the lake and upon the shore, receiving injuries. This claim is set forth in two counts—one in trespass, charging that the defendant by his servant with force and arms willfully and designedly unmoored the sloop; the other in case, alleging that it was the duty of the defendant by his servant to permit the plaintiff to moor his sloop to the dock, and to permit it to remain so moored during the continuance of the tempest, but that the defendant by his servant, in disregard of this duty, negligently, carelessly, and wrongfully unmoored the sloop. Both counts are demurred to generally.

    11

    There are many cases in the books which hold that necessity, and an Inability to control movements inaugurated in the proper exercise of a strict right, will justify entries upon land and interferences with personal property that would otherwise have been trespasses. A reference to a few of these will be sufficient to illustrate the doctrine. In Miller v. Fandrye, Poph. 101, trespass was brought for chasing sheep, and the defendant pleaded that the sheep were trespassing upon his land, and that he with a little dog chased them out, and that, as soon as the sheep were off his land, he called in the dog. It was argued that, although the defendant might lawfully drive the sheep from his own ground with a dog, he had no right to pursue them into the next ground; but the court considered that the defendant might drive the sheep from his land with a dog, and that the nature of a dog is such that he cannot be withdrawn in an instant, and that, as the defendant had done his best to recall the dog, trespass would not lie. In trespass of cattle taken in A., defendant pleaded that he was seised of C. and found the cattle there damage feasant, and chased them towards the pound, and they escaped from him and went into A., and he presently retook them; and this was held a good plea. 21 Edw. IV, 64; Vin. Ab. Trespass, H. a, 4, pl. 19. If one have a way over the land of another for his beasts to pass, and the beasts, being properly driven, feed the grass by morsels in passing, or run out of the way and are promptly pursued and brought back, trespass will not lie. See Vin. Ab. Trespass, K. a, pl. 1. A traveler on a highway who finds it obstructed from a sudden and temporary cause may pass upon the adjoining land without becoming a trespasser because of the necessity. Henn's Case, W. Jones, 296; Campbell v. Race, 7 Cush. (Mass.) 408, 54 Am. Dec. 728; Hyde v. Jamaica, 27 Vt. 443 (459); Morey v. Fitzgerald, 56 Vt. 487, 48 Am. Rep. 811. An entry upon land to save goods which are in danger of being lost or destroyed by water or fire is not a trespass. 21 Hen. VII, 27; Vin. Ab. Trespass, H. a, 4, pl. 24, K. a, pl. 3. In Proctor v. Adams, 113 Mass. 376, 18 Am. Rep. 500, the defendant went upon the plaintiff's beach for the purpose of saving and restoring to the lawful owner a boat which had been driven ashore, and was in danger of being carried off by the sea; and it was held no trespass. See, also, Dunwich v. Sterry, 1 B. & Ad. 831.

    12

    This doctrine of necessity applies with special force to the preservation of human life. One assaulted and in peril of his life may run through the close of another to escape from his assailant. 37 Hen. VII, pl. 28. One may sacrifice the personal property of another to save his life or the lives of his fellows. In Mouse's Case, 12 Co. 63, the defendant was sued for taking and carrying away the plaintiff's casket and its contents. It appeared that the ferryman of Gravesend took 47 passengers into his barge to pass to London, among whom were the plaintiff and defendant; and the barge being upon the water a great tempest happened, and a strong wind, so that the barge and all the passengers were in danger of being lost if certain ponderous things were not cast out, and the defendant thereupon cast out the plaintiff's casket. It was resolved that in case of necessity, to save the lives of the passengers, it was lawful for the defendant, being a passenger, to cast the plaintiff's casket out of the barge; that, if the ferryman surcharge the barge, the owner shall have his remedy upon the surcharge against the ferryman, but that if there be no surcharge, and the danger accrue only by the act of God, as by tempest, without fault of the ferryman, every one ought to bear his loss to safeguard the life of a man.

    13

    It is clear that an entry upon the land of another may be justified by necessity, and that the declaration before us discloses a necessity for mooring the sloop. But the defendant questions the sufficiency of the counts because they do not negative the existence of natural objects to which the plaintiff could have moored with equal safety. The allegations are, in substance, that the stress of a sudden and violent tempest compelled the plaintiff to moor to defendant's dock to save his sloop and the people in it. The averment of necessity is complete, for it covers not only the necessity of mooring, but the necessity of mooring to the dock; and the details of the situation which created this necessity, whatever the legal requirements regarding them, are matters of proof, and need not be alleged. It is certain that the rule suggested cannot be held applicable irrespective of circumstance, and the question must be left for adjudication upon proceedings had with reference to the evidence or the charge.

    14

    The defendant insists that the counts are defective, in that they fail to show that the servant in casting off the rope was acting within the scope of his employment. It is said that the allegation that the island and dock were in charge of the servant does not [71 A. 190] imply authority to do an unlawful act, and that the allegations as a whole fairly indicate that the servant unmoored the sloop for a wrongful purpose of his own, and not by virtue of any general authority or special instruction received from the defendant. But we think the counts are sufficient in this respect. The allegation is that the defendant did this by his servant. The words "willfully, and designedly" in one count, and "negligently, carelessly, and wrongfully" in the other, are not applied to the servant, but to the defendant acting through the servant. The necessary implication is that the servant was acting within the scope of his employment. 13 Ency. P. & Pr. 922; Voegeli v. Pickel Marble, etc., Co., 49 Mo. App. 643; Wabash Ry. Co. v. Savage, 110 Ind. 156, 9 N. E. 85. See, also, Palmer v. St. Albans, 60 Vt. 427, 13 Atl. 569, 6 Am. St. Rep. 125.

    15

    Judgment affirmed and cause remanded.

  • 2 Vincent v. Lake Erie Transp. Co.--"The Boat-Slamming-Against-the-Dock Case"

    Should defendants be privileged in protecting their own property at the expense of another’s property? If so, does the court “demand” anything from the plaintiff in exchange for the privilege?

    Notes: Defendant’s vessel was trapped in a harbor due to a violent storm. Rather than risk his boat being destroyed, defendant repeatedly tied and retied his boat to the plaintiff’s dock, despite an awareness that his boat was smashing into and damaging the dock.
    1

    [456] 109 Minn. 456

    2
    R. C. VINCENT and Another
    v.
    LAKE ERIE TRANSPORTATION COMPANY.[1]
    3

    Nos. 16,262 - (102).

    4

    Supreme Court of Minnesota.

    5

    January 14, 1910.

    6

    Action in the district court for St. Louis county to recover $1,200 for damage to plaintiffs' wharf, caused by defendant negligently keeping its vessel tied to it. The defendant in its answer alleged that a portion of the cargo was consigned to plaintiffs' dock and on November 27, 1905, its vessel was placed alongside at the place and in the manner designated by plaintiffs and the discharge of cargo continued until ten o'clock that night, that by the time the discharge of cargo was completed the wind had attained so great a velocity the master and crew were powerless to move the vessel. The case was tried before Ensign, J., who denied the defendant's motion to direct a verdict in its favor, and a jury which rendered a verdict in favor of plaintiffs for $500. From an order denying defendant's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial, it appealed. Affirmed.

    7

    H. R. Spencer, for appellant.

    8

    [457] Alford & Hunt, for respondents.

    9
    O'BRIEN, J.
    10

    The steamship Reynolds, owned by the defendant, was for the purpose of discharging her cargo on November 27, 1905, moored to plaintiffs' dock in Duluth. While the unloading of the boat was taking place a storm from the northeast developed, which at about ten o'clock p. m., when the unloading was completed, had so grown in violence that the wind was then moving at fifty miles per hour and continued to increase during the night. There is some evidence that one, and perhaps two, boats were able to enter the harbor that night, but it is plain that navigation was practically suspended from the hour mentioned until the morning of the twenty ninth, when the storm abated, and during that time no master would have been justified in attempting to navigate his vessel, if he could avoid doing so. After the discharge of the cargo the Reynolds signaled for a tug to tow her from the dock, but none could be obtained because of the severity of the storm. If the lines holding the ship to the dock had been cast off, she would doubtless have drifted away; but, instead, the lines were kept fast, and as soon as one parted or chafed it was replaced, sometimes with a larger one. The vessel lay upon the outside of the dock, her bow to the east, the wind and waves striking her starboard quarter with such force that she was constantly [458] being lifted and thrown against the dock, resulting in its damage, as found by the jury, to the amount of $500.

    11

    We are satisfied that the character of the storm was such that it would have been highly imprudent for the master of the Reynolds to have attempted to leave the dock or to have permitted his vessel to drift away from it. One witness testified upon the trial that the vessel could have been warped into a slip, and that, if the attempt to bring the ship into the slip had failed, the worst that could have happened would be that the vessel would have been blown ashore upon a soft and muddy bank. The witness was not present in Duluth at the time of the storm, and, while he may have been right in his conclusions, those in charge of the dock and the vessel at the time of the storm were not required to use the highest human intelligence, nor were they required to resort to every possible experiment which could be suggested for the preservation of their property. Nothing more was demanded of them than ordinary prudence and care, and the record in this case fully sustains the contention of the appellant that, in holding the vessel fast to the dock, those in charge of her exercised good judgment and prudent seamanship.

    12

    It is claimed by the respondent that it was negligence to moor the boat at an exposed part of the wharf, and to continue in that position after it became apparent that the storm was to be more than usually severe. We do not agree with this position. The part of the wharf where the vessel was moored appears to have been commonly used for that purpose. It was situated within the harbor at Duluth, and must, we think, be considered a proper and safe place, and would undoubtedly have been such during what would be considered a very severe storm. The storm which made it unsafe was one which surpassed in violence any which might have reasonably been anticipated.

    13

    The appellant contends by ample assignments of error that, because its conduct during the storm was rendered necessary by prudence and good seamanship under conditions over which it had no control, it cannot be held liable for any injury resulting to the property of others, and claims that the jury should have been so instructed. An analysis of the charge given by the trial court is not necessary, as in our opinion the only question for the jury was the amount of damages [459] which the plaintiffs were entitled to recover, and no complaint is made upon that score.

    14

    The situation was one in which the ordinary rules regulating property rights were suspended by forces beyond human control, and if, without the direct intervention of some act by the one sought to be held liable, the property of another was injured, such injury must be attributed to the act of God, and not to the wrongful act of the person sought to be charged. If during the storm the Reynolds had entered the harbor, and while there had become disabled and been thrown against the plaintiffs' dock, the plaintiffs could not have recovered. Again, if while attempting to hold fast to the dock the lines had parted, without any negligence, and the vessel carried against some other boat or dock in the harbor, there would be no liability upon her owner. But here those in charge of the vessel deliberately and by their direct efforts held her in such a position that the damage to the dock resulted, and, having thus preserved the ship at the expense of the dock, it seems to us that her owners are responsible to the dock owners to the extent of the injury inflicted.

    15

    In Depue v. Flatau, 100 Minn. 299, 111 N. W. 1, 8 L. R. A. (N. S.) 485, this court held that where the plaintiff, while lawfully in the defendants' house, became so ill that he was incapable of traveling with safety, the defendants were responsible to him in damages for compelling him to leave the premises. If, however, the owner of the premises had furnished the traveler with proper accommodations and medical attendance, would he have been able to defeat an action brought against him for their reasonable worth?

    16

    In Ploof v. Putnam (Vt.) 71 Atl. 188, 20 L. R. A. (N. S.) 152, the supreme court of Vermont held that where, under stress of weather, a vessel was without permission moored to a private dock at an island in Lake Champlain owned by the defendant, the plaintiff was not guilty of trespass, and that the defendant was responsible in damages because his representative upon the island unmoored the vessel, permitting it to drift upon the shore, with resultant injuries to it. If, in that case, the vessel had been permitted to remain, and the dock had suffered an injury, we believe the shipowner would have been held liable for the injury done.

    17

    [460] Theologians hold that a starving man may, without moral guilt, take what is necessary to sustain life; but it could hardly be said that the obligation would not be upon such person to pay the value of the property so taken when he became able to do so. And so public necessity, in times of war or peace, may require the taking of private property for public purposes; but under our system of jurisprudence compensation must be made.

    18

    Let us imagine in this case that for the better mooring of the vessel those in charge of her had appropriated a valuable cable lying upon the dock. No matter how justifiable such appropriation might have been, it would not be claimed that, because of the overwhelming necessity of the situation, the owner of the cable could not recover its value.

    19

    This is not a case where life or property was menaced by any object or thing belonging to the plaintiffs, the destruction of which became necessary to prevent the threatened disaster. Nor is it a case where, because of the act of God, or unavoidable accident, the infliction of the injury was beyond the control of the defendant, but is one where the defendant prudently and advisedly availed itself of the plaintiffs' property for the purpose of preserving its own more valuable property, and the plaintiffs are entitled to compensation for the injury done.

    20

    Order affirmed.

    21
    LEWIS, J. (dissenting).
    22

    I dissent. It was assumed on the trial before the lower court that appellant's liability depended on whether the master of the ship might, in the exercise of reasonable care, have sought a place of safety before the storm made it impossible to leave the dock. The majority opinion assumes that the evidence is conclusive that appellant moored its boat at respondents' dock pursuant to contract, and that the vessel was lawfully in position at the time the additional cables were fastened to the dock, and the reasoning of the opinion is that, because appellant made use of the stronger cables to hold the boat in position, it became liable under the rule that it had voluntarily made use of the property of another for the purpose of saving its own.

    23

    [461] In my judgment, if the boat was lawfully in position at the time the storm broke, and the master could not, in the exercise of due care, have left that position without subjecting his vessel to the hazards of the storm, then the damage to the dock, caused by the pounding of the boat, was the result of an inevitable accident. If the master was in the exercise of due care, he was not at fault. The reasoning of the opinion admits that if the ropes, or cables, first attached to the dock had not parted, or if, in the first instance, the master had used the stronger cables, there would be no liability. If the master could not, in the exercise of reasonable care, have anticipated the severity of the storm and sought a place of safety before it became impossible, why should he be required to anticipate the severity of the storm, and, in the first instance, use the stronger cables?

    24

    I am of the opinion that one who constructs a dock to the navigable line of waters, and enters into contractual relations with the owner of a vessel to moor the same, takes the risk of damage to his dock by a boat caught there by a storm, which event could not have been avoided in the exercise of due care, and further, that the legal status of the parties in such a case is not changed by renewal of cables to keep the boat from being cast adrift at the mercy of the tempest.

    25

    JAGGARD, J.

    26

    I concur with Lewis, J.

    27

    [1] Reported in 124 N. W. 221.

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