Brief Fact Summary. The Court of Appeals of Minnesota affirmed a trial court’s granting of summary judgment to Milwaukee Mutual Insurance Company (Defendant) in Harriet G. Wenger’s (Plaintiff’s) action for damages caused to her house when city police flushed out a criminal suspect hiding in the house. The homeowner challenged the judgment.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. In situations where an innocent third party’s property is taken, damaged or destroyed by the police in the course of apprehending a suspect, it is for the municipality to compensate the innocent party for the resulting damages.
Held. When a homeowner’s property is taken (in the legal sense), damaged or destroyed by the police in the course of apprehending a suspect, the municipality is required to compensate the innocent party for the resulting damages. Thus, the judgments of the lower courts were reversed and the cause remanded for trial on the issue of damages.
Discussion. The Minnesota State Constitution essentially mirrors the federal rule: “[p]rivate property shall not be taken, destroyed or damaged for public use without just compensation, first paid or secured. This provision imposes a condition on the exercise of the state’s inherent supremacy over private property rights. This type of constitutional
Wegner v. Milwaukee Mut. Ins. Co.
inhibition is designed to bar the government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.” Further, as the court pointed out, “The policy considerations in this case center around the basic notions of fairness and justice. At its most basic level, the issue is whether it is fair to allocate the entire risk of loss to an innocent homeowner for the good of the public.” Both federal and state law is simple and explicit on this point: once it has been determined that a “taking” has occurred, compensation is required by operation of law.