Ploof v. Putnam

Facts: Putnam (D) owned an island with a dock. Ploof (P) and his family were sailing when a storm forced them to moor at Putnam’s dock. Putnam’s servant set the boat free and the boat wrecked against the land destroying the boat and resulting in injury to Ploof and his family. P sued for trespass on the grounds that D’s servant forcibly and intentionally unmoored the sloop. P also sued on the grounds that D through his servant had a duty to permit P to moor his sloop at the dock and to permit it to remain until the storm had passed. D demurred to both counts, claiming that P could have moored his boat somewhere else. At trial the court entered judgment in favor of P and D appealed.

Issue: Can a party lawfully trespass if it is out of private necessity?

Holding: Yes. The court noted that there are many cases in which necessity will justify entries on land, and that the doctrine applies with special force to the preservation of human life. For example, if a dog continues onto another’s property after he drives sheep off his property; or if a traveler trespasses on another’s land because the road is blocked. One may sacrifice the personal property of another to save his life or the life of another. Entry upon land to save goods which are in danger of being lost or destroyed by water or fire is not a trespass.

Rationale: The doctrine of necessity applies with special force to the preservation of human life. If some situation arises that imperils the lives of humans and requires that those at risk trespass to land in order to preserve life, it is within their rights to do so. As such, it is not within the rights of the land owner to forbid such a trespass or forcibly remove the individuals in such a situation.

Rule: One may sacrifice the personal property of another to save his life or the lives of his fellows.

Notes:

  • General Average Contribution: If a vessel carrying passengers and cargo is threatened by a storm and it is in the best interest of the passengers to throw some of the cargo off of the ship, the damage to the cargo is then spread across all of the passengers so as to foster accountability for the decisions made to preserve life.