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In establishing an easement by necessity, the fact of the necessity becomes an issue of great importance in determining whether an easement should be implied. Under Virginia law, the "necessity" is not a physical or absolute necessity but a reasonable and practicable necessity. By adopting this rule, the supreme court aligned Virginia with the majority rule. Under this majority rule, moreover, use of an easement by necessity is not limited to what was associated with the purposes for which the dominant estate was adapted at the time of the easement's creation, i.e., the time of severance from the servient estate. The prevailing view in this country is that a way of necessity is not limited to such use of the land as was actually made and contemplated at the time of the conveyance, but is a way for any use to which the owner may lawfully put the granted land at any time. The particular use requiring a way of necessity need not have existed at the time of the conveyance. In short, the "scope" of the easement by necessity may increase to meet the increased necessities of the property.
Plaintiff Joanna Palmer’s property and defendant R. A. Yancey Lumber Corporation’s property were derived from the common ownership of Richard Richardson. Richardson's property was subdivided at that time with the probate of his will and the defendant’s property was left landlocked. That is to say, there was no access from the defendant’s property to a public road by an express easement or any other means. An implied easement by necessity for access and reasonable use and enjoyment of the defendant’s property was created by the law burdening the plaintiff’s property and for the benefit of the former. In their final stipulation, both parties stated that they disagree over the size and scope of the easement by necessity. Defendant thereafter filed the instant declaratory judgment action against plaintiff alleging that timbering is the best and highest use of the property, it further alleged that it was entitled to use the access road for ingress and egress for all purposes, including timbering as an easement by necessity. Plaintiff’s overall objection to defendant’s action was that its proposed modifications to the access road would result in negatively impacting the character of her property. The circuit court entered a final order in favor of defendant. The order established defendant’s right to the easement by necessity. It then specified that defendant was entitled to use the easement for ingress and egress for all lawful purposes, including but not limited to timbering. On appeal, plaintiff argued that the circuit court erred by granting defendant the right to modify its easement by necessity increasing the burden on her property.
Did the circuit court err in granting defendant the right to modify its easement by necessity?
No. The judgment was affirmed.
The court held that the circuit court had the authority to grant defendant corporation, which was a dominant landowner, the right to widen an established easement by necessity without the servient landowner's consent under the reasonable necessity rule the width of an existing easement by necessity could be expanded without the consent of the servient landowner. Also, the circuit court's findings of reasonable necessity for the defendant corporation's use of tractor-trailers to transport its timber, and for the modifications to its easement by necessity to accommodate such use, were amply supported by the evidence because witnesses testified using tractor-trailers was the most efficient way to haul logs from the corporation's property to its sawmill. Thus, the modifications were reasonably necessary to accommodate tractor-trailers and would not unreasonably burden the servient landowner's property.