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Vincent v Lake Erie Transportation Co (1910), 109 Minn 456, 124 NW 221


D owned “Steamship Reynolds”, moored in P’s dock to unload cargo. A storm developed, by the time unloading finished, it was violent with 50 mph winds and continued to grow. Navigation was practically suspended for over 24 hrs. D had tried to secure the tug after unloading, but could not due to the storm. The ship was violently thrashing. It snapped the ropes and damaged the dock.

At trial, the jury awarded $500 for damage to dock.


Can the appellant invoke the defence of private necessity, claiming its conduct was rendered necessary by prudence and good seamanship under conditions over which it had no control and thus not be held liable for damage to P’s property?


Necessity is only a defence if peril is imminent; and if you preserve your property at the expense of another person's property, that constitutes trespass and you are liable for the damage.
** If one preserves property at the expense of another’s without threat or menace from plaintiff’s property or an unavoidable incident due to act of god, then P is entitled to compensation for damages.


O'Brien J:
** It would have been highly imprudent for D to attempt to leave the dock or permit the vessel to drift away.
** D was not required to use the highest human intelligence, nor to resort to every possible experiment which could be suggested for the preservation of their property. The standard is ordinary prudence and care -- holding the vessel to the dock met that standard.
** Ordinary rules regulating property rights were suspended by forces beyond human control.
** If boat had not been lashed but thrown into the dock, D would not have been liable; if while attempting to hold the ropes had broken and ship damaged other dock/boat, D would not have been liable.
** However, because D was holding the boat to the dock, and it damaged the dock to preserve the boat, its owners should be responsible for the damage.

Lewis J (dissent):
** Boat was in lawful position when the storm broke.
** D could not leave the position without subjecting his boat to the hazards of the storm, and the damage to the dock was the result of inevitable accident.
** D exercised due care, not his fault.
** If one cannot, while exercising reasonable care, anticipate the severity of the storm and sought safe place before it became impossible, why should he be required to anticipate the storm?
** One who constructs a dock and enters into contractual relations with owners of vessels, takes risk of damage to his dock by boat caught there by storm.

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