Citation. 81 Vt, 471, 71 A. 188 (1908)
Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff tied his boat to defendant’s dock to avoid danger in the midst of a violent storm. Defendant’s servant found out and untied the boat. Plaintiff and his family were injured and the boat was destroyed by the storm.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
Necessity is a justifiable defense to entries upon land and interferences with personal property that would otherwise have been trespass.
Plaintiff Ploof was sailing with his family on the lake. When a heavy storm arose, plaintiff headed to defendant Putnam’s dock and tied his boat to it fearing that the storm would cause accidents. Plaintiff intended to wait for the storm to pass, but defendant’s caretaker, Albert Williams, found the boat. To protect his employer’s property, Williams untied the boat from the dock and caused it to drift in the storm. Eventually, the boat was destroyed by the storm and Ploof and his family members were also injured. Since Williams was acting in his capacity as Putnam’s employee, Ploof sued Putnam for Williams’ actions.
Whether defendant was permitted to untie plaintiff’s boat when plaintiff tied his boat to defendant’s dock out of necessity?
No. The Supreme Court of Vermont affirmed trial court’s judgment for plaintiff.
The Court explained that it was commonly accepted that necessity and an inability to control movements could justify entries upon land and interferences with personal property that would otherwise have been trespasses. This doctrine is supported by many case laws.
Similarly, the doctrine of necessity also applies with special force to the preservation of human life. Just like it is permitted for one to run through others’ properties to escape from his assailant, one may also sacrifice the personal property of another to save his life or the lives of his fellows.
In this case, plaintiff entered defendant’s property in effort to escape the storm and avoid injury. The Court agreed with plaintiff that both entering defendant’s property and tying the boat to the dock satisfied the necessity requirement.
Defendant argued that plaintiff could have tied his boat to natural objects too with equal safety, but the Court clarified that plaintiff’s actions were out of necessity as long as they were compelled by the violent storm and the urge to avoid danger. The necessity defense is not defeated by the mere existence of other options that plaintiff could have deployed.
The judgment was affirmed.