New York & Virginia S.S. Co. v. Calderwood
60 U.S. 241 (1856)

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U.S. Supreme Court

New York & Virginia S.S. Co. v. Calderwood, 60 U.S. 19 How. 241 241 (1856)

New York & Virginia Steamship Company v. Calderwood

60 U.S. (19 How.) 241

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED

STATES FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

Syllabus

Neither rain, nor the darkness of the night, nor the absence of a light from a barge or sailing vessel, nor the fact that the steamer was well manned and furnished, and conducted with caution will excuse a steamer for coming in collision with a barge or sailing vessel where the barge or sailing vessel is at anchor or sailing in a thoroughfare, but out of the usual track of the steam vessel.

Therefore, where a collision took place between a steamer and a sailing vessel, the latter being out of the ship channel and near an edge of shoals, the steamer must be responsible.

The sailing vessel had no pilot, and did not exhibit an efficient light. Although these circumstances did not exonerate the steamer, yet they make it necessary for this Court to say that an obligation rests upon all vessels found in the avenues of commerce to employ active diligence to avoid collisions, and that no inference can be drawn from the fact that a vessel is not condemned for an omission of certain precautionary measures in one case that another vessel will be excused under other circumstances for omissions of the same description.

Page 60 U. S. 242

This was a libel filed by Calderwood and the other owners of a schooner called the Sprightling Sea against the steamship Roanoke, her tackle &c., in a case of collision at the place and under the circumstances stated in the opinion of the Court.

In July, 1853, the district judge decreed that the libellants should recover against the steamship the damages occasioned by the collision, and referred the case to a commissioner to ascertain the amount.

In September, 1854, the commissioner reported that there was due to the libellants,

For the value of the vessel at the time of the

collision, after deducting the amount for which

the vessel sold . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $4,442.00

Amount added to the value above by court . . . 200.00

The value of the freight . . . . . . . . . . . 162.00

Interest on the above amounts, from

Oct. 17, 1852 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 672.56

---------

$5,476.56

This report was confirmed by the district court, and upon appeal the decree was affirmed by the circuit court, an appeal from which brought the case here.

Page 60 U. S. 245

MR. JUSTICE CAMPBELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a case of collision, in which the steamship Roanoke is charged with having carelessly and negligently run into and afoul of the schooner Sprightling Sea in the Elizabeth River, Virginia, in October, 1852.

The facts disclosed by the pleadings and proofs are, that the schooner was ascending the river between 10 and 11 o'clock, P.M., and sailing at a rate of six miles per hour, with the aid of the tide. She was close-hauled on her starboard tack at a time when she descried the steamship descending the river on her voyage to Richmond. The collision occurred on the eastern side of the river, "out of the ship channel," "near an edge of shoals," and "within a length or two of them." The object of those who managed the schooner was to avoid all danger by leaving as large a space as possible for the steamer, whose lights had been seen. For this purpose they approached as nearly as possible the eastern shore -- the usual shore for vessels navigated as she was to ascend the river. The schooner did not carry a light in her fore rigging, but one was exhibited from her breast hook some time before and till the time of the collision, and the steamer was hailed and told to keep off.

The night was "dark and rainy;" the steamer was not running at any time at an improper rate of speed. The officers of the steamship discovered the light on the schooner and supposed it to belong "to a vessel at anchor," but they say the "light disappeared, and the next time they saw it, it was nearby, under the bow of the steamer." The probability is that the officers of the steamship were mistaken in their conclusions

Page 60 U. S. 246

in reference to the course of the schooner, and under that mistaken impression went to the eastern side, and thus encountered her. No orders were given by the pilot in respect to the management of the steamer till the instant of the collision.

This Court has decided that neither rain, nor the darkness of the night, nor the absence of a light from a barge or sailing vessel, nor the fact that the steamer was well manned and furnished and conducted with caution will excuse the steamer for coming in collision with the barge or sailing vessel where the barge or sailing vessel is at anchor or sailing in a thoroughfare, out of the usual track of the steam vessel. In the present instance, the steamer had notice that a vessel was before her and was near her track, and under the circumstances she was bound to take efficient measures to avoid the schooner.

The only facts we notice in the management of the schooner which have occasioned a hesitation to affirm the decree are the absence of a licensed pilot and that the schooner did not exhibit an efficient light. The proofs in the case do not allow us to charge these omissions as indications of negligence, but, that the case may not be misunderstood, we assert that the ruling principle of the court is that an obligation rests upon all vessels found in the avenues of commerce to employ active diligence to avoid collisions, and that no inference can be drawn from the fact that a vessel is not condemned for an omission of certain precautionary measures in one case that another vessel will be excused under other circumstances for omissions of the same description.

The decree of the circuit court is affirmed.

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