The Kensington
183 U.S. 263 (1902)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The Kensington, 183 U.S. 263 (1902)

The Kensington

No. 15

Argued January 17, 1901

Decided January 6, 1902

183 U.S. 263

Syllabus

The Kensington, a steamer transporting passengers from Antwerp to New York, took on board at Antwerp, as such passengers, the petitioners in this case, and, in receiving them and their luggage, gave them a ticket containing, among other things, the following:

"(c) The shipowner or agent are not under any circumstances liable for loss, death, injury or delay to the passenger or his baggage arising from the act of God, the public enemies, fire, robbers, thieves of whatever kind, whether on board the steamer or not, perils of the seas, rivers or navigation, accidents to or of machinery, boilers or steam, collisions, strikes, arrest or restraint of princes, courts of law, rulers or people, or from any act, neglect or default of the shipowner's servants, whether on board the steamer or not or on board any other vessel belonging to the shipowner, either in matters aforesaid or otherwise howsoever. Neither the shipowner nor the agent is under any circumstances or for any cause whatever or however arising liable to an amount exceeding 250 francs for death, injury or delay of or to any passenger carried under this ticket. The shipowner will use all reasonable means to send the steamer to sea in a seaworthy state and well found but does not warrant her seaworthiness."

"(d) The shipowner or agent shall not under any circumstances be liable for any loss or delay of or injury to passengers' baggage carried under this ticket beyond the sum of 250 francs at which such baggage is hereby valued, unless a bill of lading or receipt be given therefor and freight paid in advance on the excess value at the rate of one percent or its equivalent, in which case the shipowner shall only be responsible according to the terms of the shipowner's form of cargo bill of lading, in use from the port of departure."

There was no proof specially tending to show that, at the time the ticket was issued, the attention of the travelers was called to the fact that it embodied exceptional stipulations relieving the company from liability, or that such conditions were agreed to. Held:

(1) Following the courts below, that the loss must be presumed to have arisen from imperfect stowage.

(2) That, testing the exemptions in the ticket by the rule of public policy, they were void.

(3) That the arbitrary limitation of 250 francs to each passenger, unaccompanied by any right to increase the amount by an adequate and reasonable proportional payment, was void.

Page 183 U. S. 264

The libel by which this action was commenced sought to recover the value of passengers' baggage which it was alleged the ship had wrongfully failed to deliver. The facts essential to be borne in mind in order to approach the questions arising for decision, are as follows:

The International Navigation Company, a New Jersey corporation, on December 6, 1897 at the office of its Paris agency, issued to Mrs. and Miss Bleecker, the wife and daughter of an officer of the United States Navy, a steamer ticket for a voyage from Antwerp to New York on the Kensington, a steamer in the control of the company, advertised to sail from Antwerp on December the 11th. The ticket was delivered to Mrs. Bleecker, who at the time made part payment of the passage money. The baggage of the two passengers was shipped by rail to Antwerp, to the care of the agent of the company there. Mrs. Bleecker at Antwerp, on the 10th of December, paid the remainder of the passage money, and it was entered on the ticket. The baggage having in the meanwhile been received, the charges which the agent at Antwerp had advanced were refunded, and a receipt was issued. It was stated therein that the value of the baggage was unknown, and that it was shipped subject to the conditions contained in the company's steamer ticket and bill of lading. Mrs. Bleecker and her daughter embarked, and the steamer sailed on the 11th of December. The ticket was subsequently taken up by the purser.

The baggage was stowed in what was known as number 2, upper steerage deck. The voyage was an exceptionally rough one, the ship, encountering heavy seas and winds, rolled from thirty-eight to forty-five degrees on either side during the height of the gale, and was obliged to heave to for about fifteen hours. On arrival at New York, the baggage was found to be totally destroyed. By constant shifting, it had been reduced to an almost unrecognizable mass, was commingled with debris of broken china and straw, and covered with water. The first was occasioned by stowing crates of china in the same compartment. The presence of the water was explained by the fact that an exhaust pipe which passed through the compartment

Page 183 U. S. 265

had been broken by the shifting of the contents of the compartment, and hence the exhaust escaped into the compartment.

There is no possible view which can be taken of the facts by which the loss of the baggage was brought about, by which the ship could be held responsible if the steamer ticket was, in and of itself, a complete contract, and all the conditions or exceptions legibly printed on the face thereof were lawful. The ticket was signed by the agent of the company at Paris, was countersigned by the agent at Antwerp, but was not signed by either Mrs. Bleecker or her daughter. One of the conditions printed on the ticket provided that there should be no liability to each passenger "under any circumstances" beyond the sum of 250 francs, "at which such baggage is hereby valued," unless an increased value be declared and an additional sum paid as provided by the condition.

There was no proof tending to show that, at the time the ticket was issued, the attention of Mrs. Bleecker or her daughter was called to the fact that it embodied exceptional stipulations relieving the company from liability, or that such conditions were agreed to, except insofar as a meeting of minds on the subject may be inferred from the fact of the delivery of the ticket by the company, and its acceptance, and that it contained on its face, in small but legible type, among others, the stipulations which are relied upon. The testimony of Mrs. Bleecker and her daughter was that, when the ticket was received, it was put aside without reading it, and that it was not subsequently examined before it was delivered to the ship's officer. The district court held that the loss of the baggage was attributable to bad stowage; that the ticket and the conditions printed on it were a contract binding upon the parties, so far as the conditions were lawful. The conditions generally relieving from liability for negligence were held to be void, but the stipulation as to the value of the baggage was held valid; recovery was allowed only for the equivalent of 250 francs to each. 88 F. 331.

On appeal, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment. 94 F. 885.

The case, by the allowance of a writ of certiorari, is here for review.

Page 183 U. S. 266

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