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torts:trespass-to-goods

Trespass to goods

An action for trespass to goods lies wherever there has been an actual taking of, or a direct and immediate injury to, another person's goods. Every direct forcible injury, or act, disturbing the possession of goods without the owner's consent, however slight or temporary the act may be, is a trespass, whether committed by the defendant himself or by some animal belonging to him.1) An action of trespass will also lie for taking or injuring domiciled and tame animals, such as dogs, horses, etc.2)

Animals: Beating the plaintiff's dogs is a trespass.3) Where the defendant with a little dog chased the plaintiff's sheep out of his grounds, where they were trespassing, and the sheep went into another man's land next adjoining, and the dog pursued them there, and the defendant did his test to recall his dog, but the dog could not he recalled at once, and the plaintiff sued the defendant for chasing and worrying his sheep; it was held that the action was not maintainable as the defendant had not incited the dog to chase the sheep after they had left his premises, but had done his best to call the dog off.4) But the chasing of trespassing beasts with a mastiff dog is unlawful; and, if any damage is done to them by such a dog, the owner, will be responsible for a trespass.5) Where the defendant's horse injured the plaintiff's mare, by biting and kicking her on the plaintiff's land, it was held to be a trespass.6) Wild animals are not the subject of property while unconfined, but if A starts a hare on the land of and kills it there, it is trespass, for so long as the hare remains on B's land it is his property.7)

Goods: If one lawfully having goods of another for a particular purpose destroys them he is guilty of trespass.8)

Action for trespass

The plaintiff must have an actual or a constructive possession of the goods.9) or a legal right to the immediate possession of them. The fact that a person is in actual possession of goods is prima facie evidence of his right to such possession, consequently, though he may not in truth be entitled to the possession of the goods, he is in a position to maintain an action for trespass against another person who has seized or injured them, if such other cannot show a better title in himself or some one else under whose authority he acted.10)

It is no defence to an action of trespass to set up a jus tertii to rebut the title of a plaintiff who was in actual possession of the goods at the time of the trespass, unless it can be shown that the defendant acted under the authority of the person really entitled to the possession of the goods.11) If, however, the plaintiff was not in actual possession of the goods at the time of the trespass, the proving of jus tertii would afford a good defence to the action, even though the defendant acted without the authority of the person entitled to the possession.12) The fact that the trespass was unintentional is no ground of defence.13)

Where the trespass was direct, there lay action of trespass for damages for the direct injury done to the property. Where the injury done resulted indirectly from the trespass, there lay the so called action of trespass on the case, for damages.

A joint owner can maintain an action of trespass against his co-owner if the latter has done some act inconsistent with the joint ownership.14)

Defences to an action of trespass

The justifications or defences to an action of trespass are:

  1. Self-defence or defence of property. If a person has actual possession of goods and another wrongfully attempts to take the same from him against his will, he is justified in using such force as is necessary under the circumstances for the purpose of defending his own possession and preventing the act of trespass. It is perfectly justifiable to kill a naturally ferocious animal which is found at large, e.g., a lion, or a tiger; but this does not extend to justify a person killing a ferocious dog found at large. A dog chasing sheep or deer in a park or rabbits in a warren, may be shot by the owner of the property in order to save them.15) A man cannot shoot a dog if it is chasing animals ferae naturae.16)
  2. Exercise of one's absolute or relative rights. Thus seizing goods of another, under a lawful distress for rent or damage feasant, is lawful.
  3. Obedience to some legal or personal authority, e.g. , due process of law.
  4. Negligent or wrongful act of the plaintiff himself. If a person place his horse or cart so as to obstruct the right of way, it may be removed even by applying force for that purpose.17) If a person takes away another's carriage and paints it anew without his authority, the person to whom the carriage belongs is entitled to have the carriage without paying for the painting.18)
  5. Recaption is the retaking by a lawful owner of goods of which he has been wrongfully deprived.

Damages for trespass to goods

In an action for trespass to goods, the damages in general are measured by the value of the goods, or the amount of injury done to them. Special damage resulting from the immediate loss or injury may also be allowed for, if not of too remote a nature. In mitigation of damages, the defendant may of course show any thing which tends to diminish the value of the thing affected, or the amount of loss incurred, or may negative the malicious motive ascribed to him.

In an action for injury to the plaintiff's horse by a collision, it was held that he might recover the keep of the horse at the ferrier's while it was being cured, the ferrier's bill, and the difference between the value of the horse before and after the accident; but he could not recover the hire of another horse which the plaintiff had been obliged to have while his own was laid up.19) The defendant's carriage was driven against the wheel of the plaintiff's chaise; the collision threw a person who was in the chaise upon the dashing board; the dashing board fell on the back of the horse; the horse kicked in consequence, and by kicking injured the chaise. It was held that the plaintiff might recover for the whole of the loss so sustained.20)

Indian case: Where the defendants without leave quarried on the land of the plaintiff and removed a large quantity of stone therefrom, it was held that the plaintiff was entitled to recover by way of damages the value of the stone after it was quarried, and that the defendants were not entitled to a deduction therefrom of the cost they had incurred in quarrying the stone.21)

Trespass ab initio

A person who lawfully takes a chattel, but afterwards abuses or wastes it, renders himself a trespasser ab initio.22)

1)
Fouldes v. Willoughby
2)
Wright v. Ramscot
3)
Dand v. Sexton
4)
Mitten v. Faudrye
5)
King v. Rose
6)
Ellis v. Loftus Iron Co.
7)
Sutton v. Moody
8)
Cooper v. Willomat
9)
Smith v. Milles
10)
Elliott v. Kemp
11)
Jeffries v. S. W. Ry.
12)
Gadsden v. Barrow
13)
Leame v. Bray
14)
Jacobs v. Seward
15)
Wells v. Head
16)
Vere v. Lord Cowder
17)
Slater v. Swan
18)
Hiscox v. Greenwood
19)
Hughes v. Quentin
20)
Gilbertson v. Richardson
21)
Dajiba v. B.B. & C.I. Ry.
22)
Oxley v. Watts


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