Case Brief Wiki


A boat owned by the defendant, the Reynolds, was unloading goods at Vincent's wharf when a storm blew in. It was very hazardous to be out on the water so the master of the Reynolds did not leave the wharf but stayed moored, replacing lines as they wore through. The wharf was damaged by the force of the defendant's boat banging into it. It was established by the trial court that the defendant's action did not constitute trespass since common law grants possessory rights to those who require the use of other people’s property in order to save lives.


  1. If the defendant did not violate the plaintiff's possessory rights by remaining moored to wharf, can the plaintiff recover for damages to the wharf during a storm?


Order affirmed, the plaintiff can recover


O'Brien, writing for the majority, held that while Lake Erie Transportation cannot be held liable for trespass due to private necessity, they had used Vincent's property to preserve their own and thus are liable for the resulting damages to the plaintiff. If the boat had remained secured to the dock without further action by the defendant they would not have been liable. Lake Erie Transportation was held liable because affirmative measures were taken to secure the boat.

Lewis, in the dissent, argued that dock owners run the risk that damages might occur if boats caught by a storm are moored to it. As the damage was the result of an inevitable accident and that the master of the boat, being in the exercise of due care and not at fault, should not be responsible for the damages.


There are some areas of the common law which allow a party to be found liable despite absence of fault requirement.