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Ploof v. Putnam Case Summary

Case Summary – Ploof v. Putnam, 81 Vt. 471, 71 A, 188 [1908]


  • Was the plaintiff liable for the acts done by his employee?
  • Does the act commited lies within the scope of the employee’s employment?
  • Was Putnam permitted to untie the Plaintiff’s boat when he tied the boat to the defendant’s dock out of necessity?

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  • The rule in this case brings light upon the Master/ Servant relation.
  • A master is vicarious liability for acts done by the servant in the course of employment even when it is unlawful, malicious.

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Facts of the Case

  • The defendant in the case owned an island and a boat dock near a lake named Lake Champlain. 
  • On 13 of November 1904, when the plaintiff Henry Putnam and his family were sailing amidst the river a violent storm started to arouse which could have caused imminent danger to the boat and to the lives of the plaintiff and his family.
  • To ensure the safety of all the lives and the boat the plaintiff decided to tie the boat to the dock.
  • Ploof’s employee and caretaker on the island untied the rope with which the boat was tied to. Due to a heavy storm, the boat hit the shore and was destroyed completely.
  • Putnam filed a lawsuit against Ploof in Vermont state court seeking to recover for damages sustained by his boat.

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  • The state Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment saying that the master was liable for the malicious act of his servant which was done in furtherance of the master’s business and was within the scope of the servant’s employment. 
  • The court also answers the second issue which questions whether Ploof’s employee had acted within the scope of his employment, the court ruled out that the act was committed within the scope of agency and was done for the master’s benefit.  
  • The act committed by the employee through the defendant was completely malicious and unreasonable because the plaintiff tied the rope with a dock was out of necessity with the ongoing harsh weather he and his family were in.
  • The judgment was affirmed and the cause was remanded.

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  • The case brings two different rationale from the plaintiff and the defendant.
  • The reason why the plaintiff committed a trespass to the defendant’s island was out of necessity, he did not have any other way to save his boat from the violent weather. 
  • It is said that the wrongful act done by the servant was for the benefit of the master, but it could be possible that the master was not aware of his servant untying the rope from the dock and he was only liable because the servant committed it in the course of employment.
  • It can also be possible that the untying of the rope from the dock by the defendant was in accordance with the trespass committed by the plaintiff.

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Importance of the case

  • The case questions the two major aspects of the case. One the boundaries of the relation between master and servant and second the acts done under necessity.
  • Court clearly passed the judgment against Defendant as the plaintiff trespassed the land for saving his boat and his family by tying it to the dock out of necessity.
  • This case broadens the aspect of cases that come under necessity. It also remands to look upon the scope of work which lies under Master-Servant relation. 


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