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Vincent v. Lake Erie Transportation Co

Citation. 109 Minn. 456; 124 N.W. 221; 1910 Minn.
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Bloomberg Law

Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiffs sued for damage to their wharf that caused by defendant’s vessel, docked there during a storm. A jury awarded damages and Defendant sought review.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Where one reasonably believes his interests outweigh the loss or harm another may incur, his conduct is privileged. That person will be held liable, however, to the extent he or she causes damage to another’s property or land.


Plaintiffs owned a wharf where ships docked to unload cargo. Defendant owned a ship that docked at plaintiffs’ wharf in foul weather. Defendant’s ship damaged plaintiffs’ wharf during a storm. Plaintiffs brought an action against defendant to recover for the damages to their wharf. The trial court denied defendant’s motion for a directed verdict and entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs, and denied defendant’s motion for a new trial.


Are plaintiff’s entitled to compensation for damages even where Defendant acted prudently and by necessity?


Yes. Where those in charge of a sea vessel deliberately and by their direct efforts hold that vessel in such a position that the damage to another’s dock results, and, having thus preserved the ship at the expense of the dock, her owners are responsible to the dock owners to the extent of the injury inflicted.


The dissent takes the view that the case is one of contract and not tort. In entering into an agreement with the ship owner, plaintiff assumed the risks inherent in such a venture. Further, the dissent asserts that the vessel’s owner exercised due care thus ameliorating further his liability.


Vincent illustrates an instance where the defense of private necessity is introduced and examined. Essentially, the defense holds that private necessity exists when the individual appropriates or injures a private property interest to protect a private interest valued greater than the appropriated or injured property. Nevertheless, courts attempt to balance such necessity with the dictates of equitable relief. In other words, private necessity is not a complete defense. A defendant is privileged to interfere with another’s property, but will be held liable for the damage. As the court in Vincent analogized, “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.” Thus, the order of the lower court awarding damages was

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