The rule of damages depends, to some extent, upon the form of the action; whether the action is for an injury to the land itself, or for the conversion of a chattel which had been severed from the land.
The plaintiffs and defendants were the owners of adjoining mining claims, which were worked by deep under-ground tunnels. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants mined over the dividing line between the claims, and worked out a portion of the mining ground of the plaintiffs, thereby inducing them to file an action against the defendants in order to recover damages in the sum of $2000. The defendants did not contest the claims of the plaintiffs, but they asserted that the act was not done willfully or intentionally, but in ignorance of the locality of the dividing line, between the claims under the surface. At trial, the plaintiffs objected to all evidence showing that the defendants were ignorant of the location of this dividing line but the court overruled the objection and permitted several of the defendants to testify to those facts. The plaintiffs were not entitled to vindictive or exemplary damages, but could only recover the damages they had actually sustained by being deprived of the gold or gold-bearing earth taken by the defendants from their mining ground.
Did the trial court err in allowing the defendants to submit evidence showing the defendants’ ignorance of the location of the dividing line between mining claims?
The court held that the trial court erred in allowing defendants to submit evidence that defendants were ignorant of the location of the dividing line between mining claims since the right of the plaintiffs to recover damages, or the amount of the damages to which they may have been entitled, was not effected by the fact that the trespass was not willful in its character. Moreover, the Court asserted that the facts did not show that the defendants received license or permission from plaintiffs to work the ground, nor did the facts estop plaintiffs from recovering damages. Also, the proper rule for damages was the value of the gold-bearing earth at the time it was separated from the surrounding soil and became a chattel.