Ploof v. Putnam - Case Summary

University / Undergraduate
Modified: 22nd Feb 2024
Wordcount: 530 words


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Legal Case Summary

Summary: Landmark case on the principle of necessity, establishing the doctrine of 'public necessity'.


In this case, the plaintiff, Frederick Ploof, was sailing when a sudden storm captured him and his family. He headed for the defendant's, Jalbert Putnam, dock and tied his boat to it. The defendant untied the boat during the storm, and all the members of Ploof’s family were injured and the boat was damaged.

The plaintiff sued the defendant for the damages caused to the boat and injuries to his family. Ploof argued that he was in imminent peril, and the act of tying the boat on the defendant's dock was an act of 'necessity'. Hence, he should not be held liable for trespass.


The main issue in the case was whether a person could utilise another's property during an emergency situation, without the property owner's permission, and whether it would be considered trespassing. Additionally, if the property owner forcibly ejects such a person, could the property owner be held liable for damages?


This case laid down the doctrine of necessity, arguing that when human life is in danger, personal property rights may have to yield. This decision also recognized that an individual cannot be held liable for trespass if the alleged trespass was committed out of necessity to prevent a more serious harm. Notwithstanding, the doctrine of necessity is not a catch-all, and certain conditions must be met for it to be invoked successfully.


The Vermont Supreme Court held that during a severe storm one may use another's property in order to save life. Therefore, the principle of 'necessity' could shield a person from liability for trespass. In this case, Putnam, the landowner, was held liable for the damages incurred when he pushed Ploof's boat back into the storm, seeing as Ploof had acted under necessity.


  • Prosser, W. and Keeton, W. (1984). Torts: Cases and Materials. West Publishing Co.
  • Epstein, R. (1995). Cases and Materials on Torts. Aspen Law & Business.

Journalist Brief

In the case of Ploof v. Putnam, a man and his family were caught in a severe storm while sailing and sought refuge by mooring their boat to a nearby dock. However, the dock's owner pushed their boat back into the storm, causing damage to the boat and injury to the family. The court ruled that in the face of an emergency, the need to protect human life outweighs property rights. Thus, the dock owner was held responsible for the damages.


What is the doctrine of 'necessity'?

Answer: The doctrine of 'necessity' in law refers to a principle where a person is permitted to infringe upon someone else's property rights in order to avoid a greater harm or danger.

What were the key findings in the case Ploof v. Putnam?

Answer: The court held that if a person uses another's property out of necessity, as was the case here during a storm, it is not considered trespassing. Also, if a property owner forces such a person from his property, the owner can be held liable for damages.

What is the broader significance of this case?

Answer: It helped establish the legal principle that protecting human life can often take precedence over property rights in certain emergency situations.

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