Torts I, Pages 151–153

United States v. Carroll Towing Co.

United States Circuit Court of Appeals, Second Circuit, 1947

Facts:

Plaintiff owned a load of flour that was chartered on the Anna C, a barge owned by Connors Co. Defendant loosed the mooring of the Anna C incorrectly, causing it to float away, get struck by a propeller, and sink. At the time of the accident, the required custodian was not on board the vessel.

Procedural History:

Trial court divided the liability under admiralty law because Connors Co. did not have a bargee on board at the time of the accident.

Issue:

Who is at fault if a barge is damaged because its mooring is broken by another vessel while the barge is unattended?

Plaintiff's Arguments:

  • Defendant struck and set into motion the events that sunk the barge, and thus should be liable for the loss.

  • Barge owners did not follow proper procedure and pay enough attention to assure their barge's safety and should thus be responsible.

Rule:

The owner's duty is a function of:

  1. The probability that the boat will break away
  2. The severity of the resulting injury if it does
  3. The burden of adequate precautions
The severity times the probability must be less than the burden, else he is liable.

Reasoning:

While the bargee cannot be bound the barge at all time and must reasonably leave sometimes, he was gone for twenty-one hours without excuse. As the harbor was busy at this time of year, the probability of the barge breaking away was higher than normal and it should have been attended more closely. Therefore, the barge owner is at least partly responsible.

Holding:

The barge owner is at least partially at fault.

Takeaway:

One is liable if the likely harm outweighs the burden of adequate precautions.

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