Lord v. Steamship Company - 102 U.S. 541 (1880)
U.S. Supreme Court
Lord v. Steamship Company, 102 U.S. 541 (1880)
Lord v. Steamship Company
102 U.S. 541
1. While navigating the high seas between ports of the same State, a vessel of the United States is, together with the business in which she is engaged, subject to the regulating power of Congress.
2. Sect. 4283 of the Revised Statutes, as limited in its application by sec. 4289, is not unconstitutional.
Secs. 4283 and 4289 of the Revised Statutes are as follows:
"SEC. 4283. The liability of the owner of any vessel for any embezzlement, loss, or destruction by any person of any property, goods, or merchandise, shipped or put on board of such vessel or for any loss, damage, or injury by collision, or for any act, matter, or thing lost, damage or forfeiture done, occasioned, or incurred without the privity or knowledge of such owner or owners, shall in no case exceed the amount of the value of the interest of such owner in such vessel and her freight then pending."
"SEC. 4289. The provision of the seven preceding sections relating to the limitation of the liability of the owners of vessels shall not apply to the owners of any canal boat, barge, or lighter or to any vessel of any description whatsoever used in rivers or inland navigation."
Sec. 4283 was one of the seven sections referred to in sec. 4289.
The steamship Ventura, owned by the defendant in error, the Goodall, Nelson, and Perkins Steamship Company, was employed in navigation between San Francisco and San Diego in the State of California, touching at the intermediate ports on the coast. In making her voyages, she ran a distance of four hundred and eighty miles on the Pacific Ocean. She formed part of a transportation line which was largely engaged in foreign and interstate commerce, but was herself only employed on her own route, and neither took on nor put off goods outside of the State of California. While on one of her regular voyages from San Francisco to San Diego, she was totally lost, with all her pending freight and cargo, on the coast of California without the privity or knowledge of her owner. This suit was brought against her owner as a common carrier to recover the value of the goods lost. The cargo was mostly owned by retail merchants in San Diego and other places in California who had made purchases for their business from wholesale merchants in San Francisco and was in transit from there. The steamship company pleaded its exemption from liability as owner of the vessel under sec. 4283 of the Revised Statutes. On the trial, the court instructed the jury
"that if the jury believed that the said losses occurred solely by reason of the negligence of the master of said ship and without the privity or knowledge or neglect of said defendant, that said sec. 4283 of the Revised Statutes fully exonerated the defendant from liability for any such losses, notwithstanding the goods when lost were being transported on a journey, the final termini of which were different points in the State of California."
To this charge an exception was duly taken. The jury found in favor of the defendant, and judgment was rendered accordingly. To reverse that judgment the present writ of error was sued out.