Workman v. New York City
179 U.S. 552 (1900)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Workman v. New York City, 179 U.S. 552 (1900)

Workman v. New York City

No. 1

Argued April 17, 1899

Decided December 21, 1900

179 U.S. 552

Syllabus

In June, 1893, the Linda Park was moored to a dock at Pier 48, East River, New York City. While there, she was struck and injured by the steam fire boat New Yorker as it was running into the slip between Piers 48 and 49 for the purpose of getting near another fire boat then in the slip. Both boats had been called to aid in extinguishing a fire in a warehouse near the slip bulkhead. A libel was filed by Workman in the district court of the United States to recover for the damage occasioned to his vessel

Page 179 U. S. 553

by the collision. This libel was amended by adding as respondents the Fire Department of New York and Gallagher, who was in charge of the navigation of the New Yorker, and the necessary allegations were made. The district court entered a decree in favor of the libellant against the city and Gallagher, and dismissed the libel as to the fire department. The circuit court of appeals affirmed the decree against Gallagher and in favor of the fire department, but reversed that portion which held the city liable. The case being brought here on certiorari, it is held that the district court rightly decided that the mayor, aldermen and commonalty of the City of New York were liable for the damages sustained by the owner of the Linda Park.

Where both courts below have concurred in a finding of fact, it will, in this Court, be accepted as conclusive unless it affirmatively appears that the lower courts obviously erred.

The local decisions of a state court cannot, as a matter of authority, abrogate maritime law.

Under the general maritime law, where the relation of master and servant exists, an owner of an offending vessel committing a maritime tort is responsible under the rule of respondeat superior.

There is no limitation taking municipal corporations out of the reach of the process of a court of admiralty.

The public nature of the service upon which a vessel is engaged at the time of the commission of a maritime tort affords no immunity from liability in a court of admiralty when the court has jurisdiction.

While it is true that the emergency of fire was an element to be considered in determining whether or not those in charge of the fire boat were negligent, it does not follow that it exempted from the exercise of such due care as the occasion required towards property which was in the path of the fire boat as it approached the slip.

A ship, by whomsoever owned or navigated, is liable for an actionable injury resulting from the negligence of the master and crew of the vessel.

A recovery can be had in personam for a maritime tort when the relation existing between the owner and the master and crew of the vessel at the time of the negligent collision was that of master and servant.

Workman, the libellant below, was the owner, on June 11, 1893, of the British barkentine Linda Park. On the date named, while the vessel was moored to a dock at Pier 48 in the East river in New York City, she was struck and injured by the steam fire boat New Yorker. At the time of the collision the New Yorker was running into the slip between Piers 48 and 49 for the purpose of getting near to another fire boat which had shortly prior thereto safely entered the slip. Both the fire boats had been called in order to aid in extinguishing a fire in a warehouse situated a distance of eighty-five to one hundred

Page 179 U. S. 554

feet from the slip bulkhead. To recover the damage occasioned to his vessel, Workman filed, in the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, a libel in personam against the mayor, aldermen, and commonalty of the City of New York. This libel was subsequently amended by adding the allegations essential to make, as additional respondents, the fire department of the City of New York and James A. Gallagher, the person in charge of the navigation of the New Yorker at the time of the collision.

The district court entered a decree in favor of the libellant against the City of New York and Gallagher, and dismissed the libel as to the fire department. 63 F. 298.

The circuit court of appeals, to which the case was taken, affirmed the decree of the district court against Gallagher and in favor of the fire department. The appellate court, however, reversed that portion of the decree of the district court which held the City of New York liable, and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the libel as against the city. 67 F. 347.

The case was then brought to this Court by the allowance of a writ of certiorari.

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