Vincent v Lake Erie Transportation Co.

Fact pattern and procedural history

Prior to a heavy storm, defendant Lake Erie Transportation Company had its steamship Reynolds moored to a dock owned by plaintiff Vincent for the unloading of cargo. The wind became strong, and no tug was available to tow the Reynolds to another dock. Rather than casting off, defendant kept the lines secure to the dock, adding more to keep the steamship secure in the face of the increasing storm, and as a result the dock was damaged by repeated impacts with the Reynolds. Plaintiff sued for damages.

Questions of law

Does the doctrine of necessity preclude recovery for damages caused by an act arising out of necessity?

Finding

The court held that although the act of maintaining the mooring was not negligent and was justified by necessity, the plaintiff could still reasonably be called to pay the cost of damages brought on by the act. The necessity of the actions did mean it could not be held liable for any injury resulting to the property of others.

“Theologians hold that a starving man may, without moral guilt, take what is necessary to sustain life but it could hardly be said that the obligation would not be upon such person to pay the value of the property so taken when he became able to do so.”

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