Hughes v. Union Insurance Company
16 U.S. 159 (1818)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hughes v. Union Insurance Company, 16 U.S. 3 Wheat. 159 159 (1818)

Hughes v. Union Insurance Company

16 U.S. (3 Wheat.) 159

Syllabus

Insurance on a vessel and freight "at and from Teneriffe to the Havana, and at and from thence to New York, with liberty to stop at Matanzas," with a representation that the vessel was "to stop at Matanzas to know if there were any men of war off the Havana." The vessel sailed on the voyage insured, and put into Matanzas to avoid British cruisers, who were then off the Havana, and were in the practice of capturing neutral vessels trading from one Spanish port to another. While at Matanzas, she unladed her cargo under an order from the Spanish authorities, and afterwards proceeded to Havana, whence she sailed on her voyage for New York, and was afterwards lost by the perils of the seas. It was proved that the stopping and delay at the Havana was necessary to avoid capture, that no delay was occasioned by discharging the cargo, and that the risk was not increased, but diminished.

Held that the order of the Spanish government was obtained under such circumstances as took from it the character of a vis major imposed upon the master, and was therefore no excuse for discharging the cargo, but that the stopping and delay at Matanzas were permitted by the policy, and that the unlading the cargo was not a deviation. This case distinguished from that of Maryland Insurance Company v. Le Roy, 7 Cranch 26.

This was an action of assumpsit brought on a policy insuring the ship Henry and her freight "at and from Teneriffe to the Havana, and at and from thence to New York, with liberty to stop at Matanzas." At the trial the plaintiff gave in evidence the representation on which the policy was made, which contained this expression: "We are to stop at Matanzas

Page 16 U. S. 160

to know if there are any men of war off the Havana." The vessel sailed from Teneriffe on 7 April, 1807, and on 7 June following put into Matanzas, in the Island of Cuba, to avoid British cruisers, which were then cruising on her way to and off the port of Havana, and which were then in the practice of capturing American vessels sailing from one Spanish port to another. On 6 July, as soon as the passage was clear, she proceeded to the Havana, whence, on 14 July, she sailed on her voyage to New York. On the 28th of that month she foundered at sea and was totally lost. The action was for the insurance on the vessel and freight from the Havana. The underwriters gave in evidence that while at Matanzas she unladed her cargo, and insisted that this was a deviation by which they were discharged. To repel this evidence, the plaintiffs showed that the stopping and delay at Matanzas were necessary to avoid capture, and therefore allowed by the policy, that no delay was occasioned by discharging the cargo; that the risk was not increased, but diminished by it, and that an order from the Spanish government had made this act necessary.

The court instructed the jury that unlading the cargo at Matanzas was a deviation which discharged the underwriters unless it was rendered necessary by the order of the Spanish government at the Havana. That in this case the order did not justify such unlading, and that the underwriters were consequently discharged. Under these directions, the jury found a verdict for the defendants. The plaintiff having excepted to the opinion of the court, the judgment

Page 16 U. S. 161

which was rendered in favor of the defendants was brought before this Court on writ of error.

Page 16 U. S. 163

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