United States v. Carroll Towing

(2d. Cir. 1947)

Procedural History: Trial judge found no negligence on the part of the bargee, and Carroll appealed that finding, among others.

Facts: The harbormaster and deckhand aboard the Carroll, a tugboat, readjusted the lines holding fast the Anna C, to “drill out” another barge. This action, and the negligence in securing the Anna C, allowed the barge to become loose and it rammed against a tanker, whose propeller broke a hole near the bottom of the barge. The Anna C filled with water and sank, and all cargo owned by the United States was also lost. Evidence indicated that siphoning efforts by other boats present would have kept the barge afloat if the bargee had been aboard to sound a warning. The Anna C was owned by plaintiff Connors.

Issue: Should the owner of the Anna C, Connors and/or the bargee be held liable for not being aboard (or having a bargee aboard) the Anna C as it began to sink?

Is not having a bargee on board negligent?

Rules: No general rule exists to determine when the absence of a bargee or other attendant will make the owner of the barge liable for injuries to other vessels if she breaks away. However, the owner’s duty to provide against resulting injuries is a function of three variables:

  1. The probability that she will break away
  2. The gravity of the resulting injury if she does
  3. The burden of adequate precautions

(Burden = B, Probability = P, and Injury = L)

More simply, whether B < PL

Application: In this case, the probability that she would break away seems relatively high. New York Harbor is a very crowded harbor, and boats are probably unmoored quite often to make room for other ships to pass. The barges in the harbor are also likely expensive and the gravity of injury in lost cargo or a lost ship could be very great, especially in a crowded harbor. Especially during short January days and in the full tide of war activity, barges were constantly being “drilled” in and out, and a bargee could be expected to know this. There was no excuse for the bargee’s 21-hour absence, and it seems a reasonable expectation that the bargee would be present, at least during working hours of daylight.

Holding: Court reversed and remanded for reconsideration of the allocation of damages (from Carroll, the tugboat, towards the bargee and/or Connors, who owned the Anna C).

“We hold” that it is reasonable to have a bargee aboard during working hours. That the bargee was not aboard was negligent.

If the burden of precaution is less than the probability times the gravity of injury, then the owner of a barge is liable for not taking that burden of precaution (in this case, having a bargee on boat during working daylight hours).

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