Brief Fact Summary.
Defendant moored its steamship to plaintiff’s dock during a storm. The force of the storm caused the steamship to repeatedly slam against the dock, resulting in its damage. Plaintiff sued to recover for the damages inflicted by defendant’s steamship.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A partial privilege exists to trespass or destroy the property of another if it appears reasonably necessary to avoid the imminent threat to person or property and the action taken is reasonable under the circumstances.
Lake Erie Transp. Co. moored its steamship to R.C. Vincent’s dock to unload cargo. A violent storm was brewing while the cargo was being unloaded. The severity of the storm made it too hazardous for a vessel to venture out into the ocean. The steamship remained moored to Vincent’s dock during the storm. If the lines holding the steamship had been cast away, then the steamship undoubtedly would have drifted off into the ocean. The storm finally abated two days later. The force of the storm had caused the steamship to strike against Vincent’s dock with such force that it caused considerable damage. Vincent sued Lake Erie Transp. Co for the damage inflicted to his dock.
Is a steamship owner liable for the damage caused to personal property when he had to moor his ship to a private dock because of a violent storm?
Yes. It was an exercise of good judgment and prudent seamanship to keep the steamship moored to the dock during the storm. The defendant is precluded from liability for trespass. However, because the defendant purposefully availed itself to the benefit of the plaintiff’s property, the plaintiff is entitled to damages. The order of the trial court is affirmed.
The injury to Vincent’s property can be attributed to “an act of God” as opposed to a wrongful act by Lake Erie Transp. Co. Prudence and good seamanship rendered it necessary to keep the steamship moored to the dock during the violent storm. Even if the steamship had entered the harbor during the storm, then it was possible that the ship could have been thrown against the dock and inflicted even more damage. In a similar case, Ploof v. Putnam, the defendant moored his ship to a private dock due to the weather. There, the defendant was not guilty of trespass, but he was still responsible for the damages inflicted to the plaintiff’s dock. Along the same vein, Lake Erie Transp. Co. is precluded from liability for trespassing upon Vincent’s property. However, Lake Erie Transp. Co. must still compensate Vincent for the damage inflicted upon the dock. While Lake Erie Transp. Co. was privileged to remain moored to the dock, the privilege does not prevent the injured property owner from recovering damages.