Supreme Court of Michigan, 1947.
319 Mich. 661, 30 N.W.2d 358.
Plaintiff, owner of property, had an agreement worked out with Defendant Road Commissioners that they could build snow fences during the winter as long as they removed all fences after they were not needed. Defendant left a metal anchor post in ground. Plaintiff’s husband was mowing the land in the spring and the tractor caught on the metal anchor post and was killed by the tractor running over him.
Defendant filed motion to dismiss based upon the fact the action was plainly negligence, that there was no finding for intentional trespass, and furthermore that governmental immunity to acts of negligence is what is applicable here, and the lower court sustained this motion. Plaintiff appeals.
Is leaving a metal spike in the ground trespass of property?
Arguments for Both Parties
Plaintiff states that the failure to remove the spike upon expiration of the license to have it there on the land constituted a continuing intentional trespass and is alleged to be the proximate cause of the damages she wishes to recover. Defendant states that leaving the spike there constituted negligence and in which case the government carries immunity for those charges.
The instant court reverses the judgment of the lower court and is remanded for further information that is needed to be found by the lower court (damages).
Reasoning behind Holding
There is no trespass of the stake during the term in which the agreement lasts, but as the terms expire with the snow melt, the intentional (they left the stake on purpose – they removed everything else) act of leaving the stake in the ground constituted a breach of the agreement of use and this breach of existing on land unlawfully is trespass.
Trespass is, among many things, the failure to remove a thing placed on the land pursuant to a specific license or other privilege. “A trespass may be committed by the continued presence on the land of a structure, chattel, or other thing which the actor or his predecessor in legal interest has placed thereon.”
This is a statutory trespass (the law comes from the Restatement) as common law states that trespass will not lie unless the defendant entered the land unlawfully.
But nowadays this is also upheld in common law. A trespass can occur when a defendant overstays his or her welcome.
A trespass can also occur not only by unlawful entrance into space, or by an expiration of welcomeness, but it can also occur from purpose. If you say you are doing one thing on another’s land, but actually on the land to do something else, you are trespassing. Acting outside of a specific and allowed purpose is trespass. Acting beyond the scope of manifested intent is trespass.
Defendants are held liable for damages caused to property and persons that result from act of trespass, even if events are unforeseeable by a reasonable person, on the basis of trespass. See special care of Carriers (mail) for one type of specific liability.