Does Farmer have any claim(s) for damages against Pilot based on intentional tort? Discuss.
Rule of Law :
The essential requirements of intentional torts are the elements of intent, injury, damages and causation. The concept of ‘intention’ does not require that Defendant (D) know that his/her act will cause harm to the Plaintiff (P), but must know with substantial certainty that their act will result in certain outcomes (landing of the plane on the P’s land). To successfully make a claim against D, P must prove that D acted with purpose when he landed the plane on P’s property, that the act was intentional and it lead to the injury suffered by P (loss of land and crops) and the resulting damages to P’s land and crops. It is clear from the facts that that Pilot had clear intent to land the plane on Farmer’s property, that there was injury, that were damages and that it was the act of the Pilot’s that caused the damages. Farmer (Plaintiff – P) may have three claims against the Pilot (Defendant – D) for damages based on intentional tort. The potential claims will be on the basis of : a)Trespass to Land – Did Pilot trespass on Farmer’s land ? b)Trespass to Chattel – Did Pilot trespass on Farmer’s chattel (property i.e. crops) ? c)Trespass to Conversion – Did Pilot commit a conversion of Farmer’s property ? Defenses
From the Pilot’s perspective, the potential applicable defense privileges that the courts provide to the Defense such that they are not held responsible for their act, are in the form of i) consent, ii) self defense, iii) defense of others (good samaritan) or iv) necessity. Though there are additional defense privileges available under the rule of law, the facts of this case lean towards exploring the said defenses. i.Consent : In the absence of consent from the property owner, consent can be implied by law (in the cases of emergency, when consent cannot be obtained in person) or consent can be implied in fact (when a consent cannot be obtained, but a reasonable person would believe that the property owner would give consent under the same specific conditions). ii.Self defense as a defense would be applicable in the circumstances when a threat is imminent and the subsequent act is reasonable. It is an affirmative defense, which would absolve D of all liability. iii.
Defense of others is a privilege to act when the ‘other’ person being defended has the right to self-defense and a privilege to act, and the force being used by D is acceptable under the reasonable force rule. iv.Necessity : A necessity defense requires the following elements: (1) D acted to avoid a significant risk of harm; (2) no adequate lawful means could have been used to escape the harm; and (3) the harm avoided was greater than that caused by breaking the law. Some jurisdictions also require that the harm must have been imminent and that the action taken must have been reasonably expected to avoid the imminent danger. The necessity defense could either be a ‘public’ necessity or a ‘private’ necessity. A public necessity is a full defense under the doctrine of ‘public good’ and D is not held liable for any damages. A private necessity is a not a viable defense and maybe considered a limited defense since the act that created the tort was for the benefit of D or a third party. As a result, D may not be liable for the trespass, but is liable for the damages resulting from the trespass. The fact that the intent was driven from necessity, does not change the fact that the landing of the plane on Farmer’s property was intentional, voluntary and without the consent of the Farmer. However, the based on the facts, Pilot has a potential defense in the form of necessity. Analysis
a)Did Pilot trespass on Farmer’s land ?
Trespass to land is defined as a person’s unlawful entry onto another’s land. There are five elements which the plaintiff must show to make prima facie case : I.Intrusion on P’s land was a volitional act by D.
II.D acted with the intent of intruding on the P’s land. III.Physical intrusion on the P’s land by D.
IV.P was in possession or was entitled to immediate possession of the land when the trespass took place. V.Trespass was caused by the D’s act.
Based on the facts, it is clear that the Pilot has a prima facie case for ‘trespass to land’. The facts are clear that the i) Pilot intended to land on the Farmer’s land; ii) Pilot did land on the Farmer’s land; iii) the Farmer had not expressly authorized the entry.  However, as a defense privilege we have to review the law in terms of implied consent (implied
in-fact and implied in law) and the application of necessity case law. The urgent nature of the circumstances and the availability of limited options (sub-division of homes, trees of vacant land) provide a basis for implied consent. Implied in-fact consent would be an objective manifestation as a reasonable person would consent under the circumstances especially when taking into account the loss of life against the loss of property. Per case law, the courts have ruled that loss of life over-shadows loss of property. Similarly, implied in-law consent would need to be reviewed under the rule of law and the benefit of the public, considering the options between landing on a housing tract versus landing on a vacant farm where the potential of damages would be significantly lower.
The same elements of urgency and limited available options also provide the defense privilege under the rule of law of ‘necessity’. If the defense falls under the preview of ‘public necessity’, then D is not liable for any damages and P will not be able to collect any damages from D. However, if the defense falls under ‘private necessity’, D is liable for limited damages to P. As such a key factor to decide under the rule of law will be ‘was this public necessity versus private necessity ?’. Though D took action to minimize loss to the public, the action was also driven by private necessity as D and D’ clients were less likely to be hurt in the vacant field than in the sub-division and/or trees. In addition, the fact that D was a pilot and was flying a commercially paying client will also play a role in deciding public versus private necessity. b)Did Pilot trespass on Farmer’s Chattel ?
Trespass to chattel is the intentional interference with the right of possession of personal property of another. The defendant’s acts must intentionally damage the chattel, deprive the owner of its use for a period of time, or totally dispossess the chattel from the owner. i.An act by D that intentionally interferes with P’s right of possession in a chattel ii.Causation
Based on the facts, it is clear that the Farmer does have a valid claim for ‘trespass to chattel’. The elements of causation and damages to the Farmer’s crops are clear. Even though the facts do state that the Pilot ‘did not see
the crops from the air as they had been recently planted’), a the Restatement (Second) of Torts indicates that “intention is present when an act is done for the purpose of using or otherwise intermeddling with a chattel or with knowledge that such an intermeddling will, to a substantial certainty, result from the act”. Based on the rule of law, the Farmer has a valid prima facie claim for ‘trespass to chattel’. c)Did Pilot commit trespass of conversion on Farmer’s property (land and crops) ? The trespass of conversion is similar to the tort of trespass to chattel. Both require D to interfere with P’s right of possession in personal property. However, defendant must have intended to exercise control over the property in a manner inconsistent with the owner’s rights. However, conversion claims are brought in cases where the damage done to the property is more severe than in a trespass case. The facts of the case do not indicate the severity of the damages or the length of time for the loss of chattel. In the event, that the land was damaged for the longer term where the Farmer was unable to use the land for farming for the longer term, this claim could be made under the laws for ‘conversion’ Conclusion
Trespass to land, Trespass to Chattel and Conversion are acts which were committed by Pilot. The Pilot fully intended to land on the Farmer’s property knowing that it belonged to someone else and knowing that they did not have ‘express’ consent to land. The Pilot’s act of intentionally landing in the Farmer’s field caused damaged to the Farmer’s land and crops. However, the Pilot acted within reason, acted as a reasonable person would under the emergency circumstances and did act on the best viable option i.e. landing on vacant farmland versus, a sub-division of homes or trees. The Pilot did not act with recklessness or negligence. As a result, the defense of necessity is applicable. The defense of ‘necessity’ will limit or fully absolve the Pilot from any damage claims from the Farmer. The distinction between public versus private necessity is the deciding factor on the Pilot’s liability towards the Farmer. Though D took action to minimize loss to the public, the action was also driven by private necessity as D and D’s clients were less likely to be hurt in the vacant field than in the sub-division and/or trees. In addition, the fact that D was a pilot and was flying a commercially paying client will play a role in deciding public
versus private necessity. I believe that it is an act that is not likely to be defined as a ‘public need’ act under case law and as such, the Pilot would be liable to pay reasonable (non-punitive) damages to the Farmer.