Brief Fact Summary. A dog owned by Defendants bit Plaintiff, a four year-old girl. Plaintiff sued to recover for her personal injuries. Defendants contended that Plaintiff was guilty in committing a trespass by meddling with the dog and thus not entitled to recover.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. In order to prove a case of trespass to chattels, there must be damage to the chattel, the owner must be deprived of use of the chattel for a substantial period of time, or bodily harm must result from the trespass.
Issue. Was Plaintiff’s approach upon and subsequent play with the dog trespass to chattels such as would bar recovery for her injuries?
Held. No. Judgment was entered for the Plaintiff.
* One who non-consensually uses or interferes with a chattel of another is guilty of trespass if the chattel is damaged, the possessor is deprived of use for a substantial time, or bodily harm is caused by the interference.
* Unlike trespass to land, trespass to chattels does not entitle one to nominal damages. Some sort of damage must result from the interference because sufficient legal protection of the inviolability of possession of a chattel is found in the privilege to use reasonable force to maintain possession.
Discussion. This case introduces the tort of trespass to chattels, albeit in the context of a defense to another action. The Court sets forth the essential elements of the tort and explains its distinction from trespass to land. Defendants’ inability to prove any damage to the dog doomed the invocation of trespass to chattels as a defense.