Glidden v. Szybiak

Supreme Court of New Hampshire, 1949

95 N.H. 318, 63 A.2d 233.

Prosser, p. 72-73


Facts: A little girl, Elaine Glidden, played with a dog and pulled its ears.  The dog snapped at her nose and she was injured.  She sued for personal injury and won.  The defendants argued that the girl was committing trespass to chattels at the time of the injury, and thus Elaine was barred from recovering damages for her injury.


Issue: Could Elaine Glidden be held liable for trespass to chattels against the defendants’ dog?


Rule: Someone cannot be held liable for trespass to chattels unless some harm comes to the chattel.


Analysis: The court finds no evidence in the record to show that Elaine injured the dog.  Therefore, the court concludes Elaine did not commit a tort at the time of her injury.


Conclusion: The court upheld the verdict against the defendants.


Notes and Questions


1.     The New Hampshire legislature may have intended that the word “trespass” be construed to mean trespass to land in particular.

2.     I thought I had previously only heard the word “chattels” used in reference to animals rather than other property.

3.     This is an intentional tort, it makes sense it should be limited to intentional interferences with chattels.

4.     Mistake does not negate intent!  Again!

5.     There must be actual damages, which are construed to include taking stuff away if you put it back later.  If somebody put a Texas Beef Council sticker on Oprah’s car, they might be held liable for trespass to chattels, but Oprah could only collect damages if she incurred costs in removing the bumper sticker, such as having to repaint or remove glue from her bumper.

6.     I don’t understand the deal with trespass to land in terms of its involvement with title challenges.  I don’t get the connection.  Maybe I will after I take Property.

7.     When a piece of property gets converted, you get damages, but you don’t get the thing back.  If you want to keep the chattel, you must go for an action of trespass to chattels.


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