The Oregon
158 U.S. 186 (1895)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The Oregon, 158 U.S. 186 (1895)

The Oregon

Nos. 270, 273

Argued April 8-9, 1895

Decided May 6, 1895

158 U.S. 186

Syllabus

A steamer steaming in a dark night at the rate of fifteen miles an hour through a narrow inland channel where a local pilot is put in charge of it, should have a lookout stationed on either bow, and the master should be on deck; but a failure to comply with these requirements will not, in

Page 158 U. S. 187

case of collision, suffice to condemn the steamer unless there be proof that the failure contributed to the collision.

From the facts as stated by the court in the statement of facts and in the opinion, it is held that there can be no doubt that the collision between the Oregon and the Clan Mackenzie was attributable to the inefficiency of the pilot and lookout of the Oregon.

Where one vessel, clearly shown to have been guilty of a fault adequate in itself to account for a collision, seeks to impugn the management of the other vessel, there is a presumption in favor of the latter which can only be rebutted by clear proof of a contributing fault, and this principle is peculiarly applicable to a vessel at anchor, complying with regulations concerning lights and receiving injuries through the fault of a steamer in motion.

The provision in Rev.Stat. § 4234 that every sail vessel shall, on the approach of a steam vessel during the night time, show a lighted torch upon that point or quarter to which the steam vessel shall be approaching, is no part of the International Code, and would seem to apply only to American vessels, and has no application to vessels at anchor.

Under all ordinary circumstances, a vessel discharges her full duty and obligation to another vessel by a faithful and literal observance of the International Rules.

The obligors in a stipulation given for the release of a vessel libelled for a collision are not, in the absence of an express agreement to that effect, responsible to intervenors in the suit, intervening after its release; but the court below may treat their petitions as intervening libels, and issue process thereon, or take such other proceedings as justice may require.

This suit was originally instituted December 31, 1889, by the filing of a libel in admiralty by John Simpson, master of the British ship Clan Mackenzie against the steamer Oregon to recover damages for a collision between the two vessels which occurred December 27th in the Columbia River about a mile above a point in the river known as "Coffin Rock Light," and resulted in the sinking of the Clan Mackenzie and the loss of two of her crew. The libel charged the Oregon with fault in not having a proper lookout or a competent pilot and in failing to keep out of the way of the Clan Mackenzie, which was then at anchor.

Upon the Oregon's being arrested, a claim to her was interposed by the Oregon Short Line and Utah Northern Railway Company, and a stipulation given in the sum of $260,000 to answer the libel. Subsequently, intervening petitions were filed by James Laidlaw, administrator of the estates of the

Page 158 U. S. 188

two seamen of the ship who were killed in the collision, by John Simpson and his wife individually, and by eighteen others of the crew of the Clan Mackenzie for the loss of their property, clothing, and effects in the sinking of the ship. Copies of these petitions were served upon the claimant, but no warrant of arrest was issued and no separate stipulation was given to answer the interveners' demands.

James Joseph, another of the crew, also intervened, alleging that he had been seriously injured by the collision and asking damages therefor. Exceptions to these petitions were filed, denying the right to intervene after the vessel had been discharged from arrest. These exceptions were overruled, and the claimant ordered to answer. Answers were accordingly filed.

Subsequently, and on April 5, 1890, the Oregon Short Line and Utah Northern Railway Company, charterer of the Oregon, filed a cross-libel against the Clan Mackenzie, charging that the collision occurred through the fault of the latter in failing to display a proper anchor light, to keep a proper anchor watch, or to call the steamer's attention by shouting, ringing the ship's bell, or showing a lantern or torch, as required by Rev.Stat. § 4234. A stipulation was given in the sum of $50,000 to answer this cross-libel, and the cases came on to a hearing in the district court upon libel and cross-libel.

The district court found the Oregon to have been in fault for excessive speed, for want of a proper lookout and of an officer on deck, and for the negligence of her pilot in mistaking the anchor light of the Clan Mackenzie for that of Coffin Rock, and for not keeping further out in the channel of the river. The district court also found the Clan Mackenzie to have been in fault for the want of a proper lookout, for failure to ring her bell, and for the omission to exhibit a torch. The case was adjudged to be one of mutual fault, and a decree was entered dividing the damages. The intervening petitions were held to have been properly filed, and one-half of their claims was ordered to be paid by the Oregon, and the other half out of the money found to be due to the Clan Mackenzie. 45 F. 62. From this decree both parties appealed to

Page 158 U. S. 189

the circuit court, which affirmed the decree of the district court, and made the finding of facts printed in the margin. *

Page 158 U. S. 192

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