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Vincent v. Lake Erie Transport Co.

Citation. 124 N.W. 221 (Minn. 1910)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A boat caused damage to the dock it was tied to during a storm.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

When by conscious action an injury results, liability also results.


Defendant owned a steamship, which it tied to the plaintiff’s dock to unload its cargo.  By the time it had finished unloading, a storm came, and the ship was unable to leave the port.  They fastened the boat securely to the dock, replaced lines when they broke, and tended to the ship for the duration of the storm.  During the storm, the swell and wind caused the ship to damage the dock.


Is the defendant liable for the damages to the dock?


Yes, the defendant is liable because their actions resulted in the harm.


aJustice Lewis, J. (joined by Jaggard, J.)

The justices dissent on the grounds that the majority assumes that the defendant had the ability to select an alternative course of action. They opine that the factual record does not support such a presumption.  They would have held that as long as the defendant was lawfully docked at the plaintiff’s dock, no liability would attach to them.


The court finds for the plaintiff on the grounds that the defendant chose to preserve their ship, rather than preserve the dock.  The court opines that because of the conscious decision of preserving the ship at the expense of the dock, the owners of the ship should be liable to the owners of the dock.  While under normal circumstances the defendant may have been trespassing by remaining at the dock, the doctrine of necessity grants them the ability to stay at the dock for the duration necessary.  However, while the necessity here is legally valid, and comes from the storm that threatened both the ship and the dock, the finding of necessity does not preclude the plaintiff for seeking compensation.  Necessity allows actions in the moment to the extent necessary to protect life or property, but is tempered by the fact that if property damage results the person under necessity will be liable.

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