Facts: P and D were owners of adjoining tracts of timbered lands. P, in consequence of a
mistake respecting the actual location, went upon the lands of the mining company and
cut a quantity of cord wood, which they hauled and piled on the bank of Portage Lake.
The next spring the wood was taken possession of by the mining company, D, and
disposed of it for its own uses. There were tangible values to the wood and the labor
used to cut it and place it. P brought suit and found in favor of P that D must give P the
cost of cutting the lumber. Trial court and jury found in favor of P.
Issue: Should P, acting in good faith, who mistakenly cut the wood of D be entitled to the
value of cutting the wood?
Holding: Reversed for D.
Rationale:
– There are sometimes exceptions that a trespasser in good faith labors to convert
the property of another to give it substantially increase in value, the title should go
to the trespasser who gave the property its increase value because it would be
grossly unjust to permit the other party to appropriate the benefit of such labor.
Here however, the value added to the wood was not substantial and it could very
well be that the owner felt there was a greater value in having the wood not cut
down.
– It cannot be assumed as a rule that a man prefers his trees cut into cord wood
rather than left standing, and if his right to leave them uncut is interfered with
even by mistake, it is just that the consequences of the mistake should fall upon he
who committed the mistake and not upon the innocent property owner. Such a
doctrine would encourage carelessness and fraud and will discourage vigilance
and carefulness regarding the property rights of land owners
– The general principle should be that the mistaken laborer will not be recovered. If
a mechanic accidentally alters the home of the wrong home owner, must the home
owner either abandon his house or pay for the labor expended upon it when he
did not desire any such change? The bounds of an opposite doctrine could go
very far. The mistaken laborer may charge for transportation when he carries off
the wrong property of others