Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Martin Fuller v The Southwark case brief

Martin Fuller v The Southwark case brief summary
Supreme Court, 1903

Facts
  • The Southwark was a vessel belonging to International Navigation Co.
  • A shipment of beef was carried in this vessel.
  • The meat was required to be kept chilled during the voyage.
  • The vessel had a refrigerating system.
  • The meat was received under a bill of lading. Across the bol there was a disclaimer which said that the vessel owner wasn’t responsible for the meet, including defects to the refrigeration system.
  • The refrigeration system broke down.
  • Upon the arrival of the ship at Liverpool, the meat was decomposed.

Procedural Posture
The trial court and the appeal court exonerated the vessel.

Issue
Whether the terms on the bol are enforceable and thus the owner is not liable.

Holding
  • The terms of the bol are not enforceable and the owner is liable.
  • To permit the parties the enforcement of the bol would be to allow the parties to enforce a contract in violation of the positive terms of the statute.
  • Reverse and remanded.

Ruling
  • Harter Act governs this case.
  • The effect of this act is to limit the liability of the vessel owner in particular conditions.
  • Before the owner can have the benefit of the relief provided by section 3, he must have exercised due diligence to provide a seaworthy vessel.
  • The test for seaworthiness is:
    • Whether the vessel is reasonably fit to carry the cargo which she has undertaken to transport.
  • Seaworthiness also depends on the vessel being fit to the particular cargo to be transported. A vessel must be able to transport the cargo which it is held out as fit to carry or it is not seaworthy in that respect.
  • The shipper has no control over the apparatus. It is under the supervision and care of the vessel owner, inspected and operated by those in his employ.
  • The burden of proof is on the owner.
  • The right of the carrier to be exonerated in the respects named in the Harter Act depends upon the exercise of due diligence upon his part in discharging the primary duty of providing a seaworthy vessel.
  • This initial duty was not done in this case. The vessel owner had not sustained the burden cast upon him to establish the fact that he has used due diligence to furnish a seaworthy vessel.
  • The Harter Act relieves carriers from some of the harsher rules of obligation in force before its passage, but this relief is conditioned upon the discharge of the carrier’s duty to use due diligence to provide that which it holds out to the shipper it is competent to furnish a seaworthy vessel, duly equipped and provided for the purposes of the voyage. 
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