Harrison v. Petroleum Surveys, Inc.
Louisiana Court of Appeal
80 So. 2d 153 (1955)
Muskrat trapping was a lucrative business in Louisiana. William H. Harrison, Walter J. Harrison, and Lydia Harrison Knight (collectively, the Harrisons) (plaintiffs) owned a two-acre tract of land that was particularly suited for muskrat trapping. The land was marshland, soft enough for the muskrats to tunnel for food and construct their nests. The land also contained plentiful amounts of various grasses, the roots of which are a muskrat’s preferred food. Given these favorable conditions and the muskrat’s prodigious mating habits, experts agreed that land such as the Harrisons’ two-acre tract could support trapping operations of approximately 100 muskrats per year. The Harrisons’ land derived almost all its value from the ability to trap muskrats. Petroleum Surveys, Inc. (defendant) admitted to trespassing unintentionally on the Harrisons’ land while conducting a survey in the area. During the survey, Petroleum Surveys used a marsh buggy that crushed the land, killed many of the muskrats hiding underground, and destroyed the food on which the muskrats survived. Expert testimony confirmed that land such as the Harrisons’, if crushed by marsh buggies such as those used by Petroleum Surveys, could not be restored for approximately eight to 10 years. The Harrisons sued Petroleum Surveys for damages based on the number of muskrats estimated to have been killed, plus the number of muskrats they anticipated trapping over the next 15 years. Petroleum Surveys argued that the Harrisons could not recover for the muskrats because the muskrats were not the Harrisons’ property. Muskrats were wildlife, and wildlife was owned by the state. Petroleum Surveys argued that the only damages to which the Harrisons could possibly be entitled were the cost to restore the land and the value of the destroyed grass on which the muskrats subsisted. The state district court agreed with Petroleum Surveys and dismissed the case. The Harrisons appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Tate, J.)
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