Vincent v. Lake Eric Transp. Co.
Prosser, pp. 120-121
Facts: A steamship was moored to a dock when a storm came in. If the ship had been cut loose from the dock, it would have been blown away and might have caused damage to something else. Instead, the ship was tied to the dock, but because of the storm, it kept hitting the dock, damaging it. The owner of the dock sued the owner of the steamship. The trial court found for the plaintiffs and the defendant appealed.
Issue: Does the defendant have the privilege by necessity to moor the ship such that the defendant is not liable?
Rule: The defendant has a partial privilege to protect its private property from serious harm. The defendant will be subject to liability to anyone who is injured.
Analysis: The court basically says to the defendant that what it did was right under the circumstances, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to pay the plaintiff for the damage done. The court implicitly distinguishes this case from Surocco in that the former case dealt with public necessity.
Conclusion: The court affirmed the order denying a new trial.
Notes and Questions
1. There is a
good economic argument for this rule. We
want to encourage an actor like
2. This would be different because the safety of persons would be at stake and the law values the protection of human life more highly than property. I think the ship’s owner would not be liable for any damages that occurred during the period the crewmen were escaping. However, once all the crewmen are safe, I think the ship’s owner could be liable for any damages that followed.
3. If a public highway is blocked, you can cut through adjacent land to get around the obstruction.
4. It is not clear from the description here, but it is clear from the record of the case, that the plaintiff and the extortioner were not one and the same. It does not seem at all just that you should substitute your safety for that of an innocent bystander. The case is rather lengthy, but the defendant seems to get off scot-free because the court finds that the extortioner was the proximate cause of the harm to the plaintiff rather than the act of the defendant. But didn’t the defendant have a duty to the plaintiff to warn him that a bomb was about to go off and that he should take cover? I guess the court says that when you’re under duress, to act out of self-preservation and anything you do is either involuntary or can be otherwise excused. I wonder if the court ruled the way it did because it was bribed by the wealthy defendant.
5. Because tort law places such a high value on human life and personal safety, it would be inconsistent to allow any privilege for taking human life.