Friday, October 19, 2012

US v. Carroll Towing Co. case brief

US v. Carroll Towing Co.
159 F.2d 169

Procedural History
•    Appellants sought review of a judgment from a district court that held them liable for damage to a barge and for lost cargo.

•    Appellant barge owner chartered barge to railroad. The barge, carrying a cargo of flour, was moored to end of pier. Other barges were moored outside her; her lines to pier were not strengthened. Appellant tug owner chartered a tug to the company to drill out one of the barges. On board the tug was a harbormaster employed by company. The harbormaster and the deckhand went aboard the barge and readjusted its fasts to their satisfaction. After doing so, they threw off the line and boarded the tug, which backed away from the outside barge. A tier off the pier broke adrift because the fasts from the barge carried away. The Barge hit the tanker, and the tanker’s propeller broke a hole in the barge. The barge careened, dumped her cargo, and sank.

•    There is a duty of care to protect others from harm when the burden of taking adequate precautions is less that the product of the probability of the resulting harm and the magnitude of the harm.  B < PL (B=burden, P=probability, L=injury)
•    The probability is the foreseeable likelihood that the person’s conduct will result in harm, the injury is the foreseeable severity of any harm that may ensue, and the burden is the amount of precautions to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm

•     However, in any cases where he would be so liable for injuries to others obviously he must reduce his damages proportionately, if the injury is to his own barge. Since there are occasions when every vessel will break from her moorings, and since, if she does, she becomes a menace to those about her; the owner’s duty, as in other similar situations, 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. Possibly it serves to bring this notion into relief to state it in algebraic terms: If the probability be called P; the injury, L; and the burden, B; liability depends upon whether B is less than L multiplied by P: i.e., whether B less than PL.
•    The likelihood that a barge will break free varies with time and place.  The bargee must go ashore at times, there is no requirement that he remain onboard at all times.  The bargee left at 5 p.m. the afternoon before the incident.  The next day at around 2 p.m. the bargee was still missing with no excuse for his absence entered as evidence.  The place of the occurrence, during the time of year (jan) and with the full tide of war left barges constantly entering and exiting.  It was not beyond reasonable expectation that, with the inevitable haste, work might not be done with adequate care.  The bargee under these conditions should have been onboard.

•    The judgment was reversed; after adopting the “burden was less than the injury multiplied by the probability” formula, the court of appeals reassessed the parties’ liability for damages and remanded.

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