124 N.W. 221 (Minn. 1910)

Defendant’s steamship was moored to plaintiff’s dock to unload cargo when a severe storm arose.  To prevent the loss of the ship and its crew, the ship’s master kept the ship tied to plaintiff’s dock during the storm.  The storm drove the ship against the dock, causing damage.

In plaintiff’s lawsuit to recover for that damage, the court ruled that defendant was justified in keeping the ship tied to the dock, was thus not a trespasser, and also was not negligent because it was reasonable to protect the substantially more valuable ship and its crew at the expense of the less valuable dock.

Nevertheless, the court ruled that defendant must pay for the damages.  The court’s theory of liability was not clearly stated.  The opinion suggests that defendant in effect appropriated the portion of plaintiff’s dock that was damaged in the storm to prevent loss of defendant’s own property and therefore must pay.  The law-and-economics approach would reason that the storm precluded negotiations between the parties, and that requiring the ship owner to pay places the incentive to make an economically optimal decision on the party who is in the best position to assess the costs and benefits of remaining tied to the dock versus risking the ship in open water.

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