Brief Fact Summary.
While cargo from a steamship owned by Lake Erie Transportation Co. was being unloaded on Vincent’s dock, a violent storm struck, causing the steamship to damage the dock.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
While public necessity may require the taking of private property for public purposes, a plaintiff will be entitled to compensation for injury done by a defendant who has prudently and advisedly availed itself of the plaintiffs’ property for the purpose of preserving its own more valuable property.
While cargo from a steamship owned by Lake Erie Transportation Co. was being unloaded on Vincent’s dock, a violent storm struck, causing the steamship to damage the dock. The storm was so violent that it suspended virtually all travel in and out of the port.
Vincent argued that it was negligent for Lake Erie Transportation Co. to moor the steamship to the part of the dock it did, but the court disagreed, finding that the employees had moored the steamship to a part of the dock that was commonly used for the purpose of unloading cargo.
Lake Erie Transportation Co. argued that its conduct during the storm was necessary and out of its control, such that it should not be held liable for any injury resulting to the property of others.
Is $500 a proper amount of damages for which Vincent was entitled to recover?
Yes, $500 is a proper amount of damages for which Vincent was entitled to recover.
That the steamship was lawfully in position at the time the storm broke and the employees couldn’t keep the steamship in place without damage to the dock was an inevitable accident as long as the employees were exercising due care.
The majority found that there would be no liability if the steamship employees did not have to use additional cables to fasten the steamship to the dock. But how can the court put the onus on the steamship employees to determine if they needed additional cables prior to the storm when they could not reasonably be expected to anticipate the violence of the storm before its onset?
Vincent assumed the risk of damage to his dock by steamships caught in storms when the steamship employees exercised due care.
Held to a standard of ordinary prudence and care, the steamship employees could not be required to leave the dock during the storm because no one could have reasonably anticipated how violent the storm was to be.
Ordinary rules on property rights are typically suspended when an act of God causes damage to the property of another. If the steamship had entered the dock during the storm and thereafter damaged the dock or the steamship had been carried away out of the control of employees and smashed into other boats, then there would be no liability on Lake Erie Transportation Co.
However, this is a different situation in which the steamship employees deliberately held the steamship to the dock to preserve their steamship at the expense of the dock, so Lake Erie Transportation Co. should be responsible to Vincent to the extent of the injury inflicted.