Big Firm Experience. Small Town Care.

Why McCarthy Law Office? When you need a lawyer, you need the best. For 25 years Scott McCarthy has helped people with family issues, litigate contract disputes, recover losses from injury and wrongful death and manage their mistakes. He is an experienced attorney who knows the system.  He has the passion, breadth of experience and knowledge, that gives his clients their best possible results. Scott has a reputation for sharp, honest evaluations, calling people back promptly, being on time to meetings and court appearances, meticulous preparation for trial and his desire to see their case through so his client's lives can continue on their best possible course forward.

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Keep off of my Land

What can happen if you intentionally trespass on someone's land after being warned not to do so? Just ask Steenberg Homes, Inc. A fellow purchased a mobile home from Steenberg Homes. He requested the mobile home be delivered to a remote site in the woods. The only pathway to the remote site was a snow-covered road with a very sharp turn. The delivery guys felt they would have difficulty negotiating the road and turn. As a result, the manager contacted an elderly neighbor and requested permission to cross his farm field to deliver the mobile home.

The elderly neighbor told the manager that he did not want anyone crossing his field with a mobile home. The manager explained that the mobile home would cause no damage to his land. It was winter and there were no crops planted on the land. The elderly gentleman continued to refuse permission.

Later, the elderly gentleman saw the mobile home parked on the road. He questioned the employees. He again informed them that they did not have permission to cross his land. The employees called their manager. The manager met with the land owner and asked him how much it would cost for permission to cross his land. The land owner continued to refuse them access.

Later that day, the manager told his employees to get the mobile home to its appointed place no matter what it took. The employees cut a path across the elderly gentleman's land. The police were called and Steenberg's assistant manager was given a $30 citation.

The elderly gentleman then sued Steenberg Homes based on the tort of intentional trespass. The jury awarded the elderly gentleman $1 in nominal damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. The purpose of punitive damages are to punish and deter willful and malicious behavior.

Steenberg Homes requested that the Trial Court reduce the punitive damage award. The Trial Court set aside the punitive damage award. The case was appealed. The Appellate Court agreed with the Trial Court. The matter was then heard by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court noted that society has a strong interest in punishing and deterring intentional trespass. The Supreme Court felt that a $30 fine and $1 in nominal damages would not be sufficient to deter such conduct. In fact, the Supreme Court noted that if the only penalty for Steenberg Homes was $31, that Steenberg Homes would actually make a profit by intentionally trespassing. As a result, the Supreme Court overturned the Appellate Court and upheld the award of $100,000 in punitive damages.

The Supreme Court will not always consider such a level of damages appropriate.  It depends on the trespasser.  Remember, the purpose of punitive damages are to punish and deter intentional conduct.  If the trespasser is poor, a punitive damage award may not even be necessary.  The ticket may be sufficient.  However, if the trespasser is a wealthier corporation, a nominal award may be insufficient.