Williamson v. Barrett
54 U.S. 101 (1851)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Williamson v. Barrett, 54 U.S. 13 How. 101 101 (1851)

Williamson v. Barrett

54 U.S. (13 How.) 101

Syllabus

The usage upon the River Ohio is that when the steamboats are approaching each other in opposite directions and a collision is apprehended, the descending boat must stop her engine, ring her bell, and float, leaving the option to the ascending boat how to pass.

The descending boat was not bound to back her engines, and it was correct in the circuit court to refuse leaving to the jury the question whether or not in fact such backing of the engines would have prevented the collision where the ascending boat was manifesting an intention to cross the river.

The proper measure of damages is a sum sufficient to raise the sunken boat, repair her, and compensate the owners for the loss of her use during the time when she was being refitted.

This was an action of trespass on the case brought by the owners of the steamboat Major Barbour, the defendants in error, against the owners of the Paul Jones, another steamboat, for injuries resulting from a collision between the boats.

On the 3d of February, 1848, at a place upon the Ohio River, about one hundred miles below Louisville, the Major Barbour was descending the river, and a collision ensued between her and the Paul Jones, which was ascending, by means of which the Major Barbour became filled with water and sank.

On 17 February, 1848, Barrett and others being citizens of Kentucky, brought an action of trespass on the case against Williamson and the other owners of the Paul Jones in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Ohio.

In October, 1849, the cause came on for trial upon the general issue plea. The jury found a verdict for the plaintiffs for $6,714.29. The following is the bill of exception taken upon the trial.

"Seventh Circuit Court of the United States, Ohio District, Alexander B. Barrett, Robert Clark, Nathaniel D. Terry, Henry Lyne, James T. Donaldson, William Brown, John B. Sprowle, v. Euclid Williamson, Thomas F. Eckert, John Williamson. Be it remembered that on the trial of this cause, evidence was given showing that before and at the time of the collision mentioned in the pleadings in this cause, the plaintiffs' boat, the Major Barbour was descending the Ohio River and the defendants' boat, the Paul Jones, was ascending the same river and heavily loaded, and the Major Barbour was light, the Paul Jones being a much larger boat than the Major Barbour."

It was claimed by the plaintiffs, and testimony offered by them, tending to show that their boat was descending the middle

Page 54 U. S. 102

of the river and that the collision took place at or about the middle of the river.

It was claimed on the part of the defendants and evidence was offered to show that their boat was ascending near the Indiana shore and that the plaintiffs' boat was also running near that shore, and that the collision took place near that shore. The plaintiffs also offered evidence tending to show that the Paul Jones, a short time before the collision, suddenly turned out of the Indiana shore and ran across the river into the plaintiffs' boat, and the defendants offered evidence tending to show that the plaintiffs' boat a short time before the collision suddenly turned out from the Indiana shore and crossed the bow of the Paul Jones.

Evidence was also given tending to show that the engines of the plaintiffs' boat were stopped, and the boat floated for some time previous to the collision, but it was admitted that she did not back her engines, and it was claimed by the plaintiffs that she was not bound by the rules or usages of navigation to back her engines.

Evidence was also given tending to show that the Paul Jones, some time previous to the collision, stopped her engines, and then reversed her engines to back the boat, and made from one to three revolutions back, and was actually backing at the time of collision.

And it was claimed by the plaintiffs that their boat's engines were stopped and the boat floating as soon as danger of collision was anticipated, and on the part of the defendants it was claimed that the said Major Barbour's engines were not stopped sufficiently early, and that owing to that and her not attempting to back her engines, she contributed to the collision.

The plaintiffs and defendants also offered evidence of pilots on the Ohio River tending to show that boats navigating the Ohio River were bound to observe the following rules in passing each other: the boat descending, in case of apprehended difficulty or collision, was bound to stop her engines, and float at a suitable distance, so as to stop her headway, and the boat ascending should do the dodging or maneuvering. And some of the pilots also testified that it was also the duty of both boats to back their engines so as to keep the boats apart when danger was apprehended, and to do all they could to prevent a collision; but the greater part of them said the rule of the river required the descending boat to stop its engines and float, being at the place of collision, near the middle of the river. And the defendants' counsel asked the court to instruct the jury that if by backing the Barbour's engine, in addition to stopping and floating, the collision could have been avoided, and the plaintiffs did not back her engines, the plaintiffs could not recover, and that

Page 54 U. S. 103

plaintiffs were bound to make use of all the means she had to prevent a collision. And thereupon the court charged the jury as follows:

"That if the Major Barbour was in her proper track for a descending boat, as proved by several witnesses, near the middle of the river, and the Paul Jones in ascending the river was in her proper track, near the Indiana shore, and she turned out of her proper course, across the river, or quartering, in the language of some of the witnesses, so as to threaten a collision with the Major Barbour, and that as soon as this was discovered the Major Barbour stopped her engine, rang her bell, and floated down the stream, as the custom of the river required, leaving the ascending boat the choice of sides, and this was the law of the river, that on the near approach of the Major she was not required to back her engines, as that might bring her in contact with the other boat, but might presume that the Paul Jones did not intend to run into her, and that for an injury done to the Major Barbour under such circumstances by the Paul Jones running into her, the plaintiffs are entitled to recover such damages as appears from the evidence was done to the Major Barbour."

"That if the Major Barbour turned out of her course, running near the Indiana shore, and this turning out of her course contributed to the collision, the plaintiffs could not recover. That where both boats were in fault, the plaintiffs could not recover. That in such case, the fault of the Major Barbour must be such as led to or contributed to the collision. That if the collision was the result of an unavoidable accident, the plaintiffs could not recover."

"That should the jury find for the plaintiffs, they will give damages which shall remunerate the plaintiff for the damages incurred necessarily in raising the boat and in repairing her, and also for the use of her during the time necessary to make the repairs and fit her for business. That the jury were not bound to give interest as claimed by the plaintiffs, but they would give such sum in damages as they shall deem just and equitable under the circumstances."

"To which charge of the court, so far as it relates to charging that the Major Barbour was not required to back her engines, but might presume that the Paul Jones did not intend to run into her, and also to so much of the charge as directs the jury that they might give damages for the use of the boat during the time necessary to make the repairs and fit her for business, and also to the refusal of the court to charge or instruct the jury as requested, the defendants, by their counsel, except and pray this their bill of exceptions may be signed and sealed, which is done and ordered to be made a part of the record."

"JOHN McLEAN [SEAL]"

"H. M. LEAVITT [SEAL]"

Page 54 U. S. 106

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.