Snow v. Law
61 U.S. 543 (1857)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Snow v. Law, 61 U.S. 20 How. 543 543 (1857)

Snow v. Law

61 U.S. (20 How.) 543

Syllabus

Where a towboat was descending the Mississippi River with a vessel fastened to each side and another at the stern, and a collision ensued between one of the vessels thus lashed and an ocean steamer ascending the river, the evidence shows that the latter was in fault, and must pay for all the damage.

On the night of the 5th November, 1852, a collision occurred at about midnight in the Mississippi River, at a point about twenty miles below the City of New Orleans, between the steamship Crescent City and the ship Ocean Queen, then in tow of the steam towboat Star. The Crescent City was at the time ascending the river, bound for New Orleans. The towboat Star was descending the river, having in tow, on her starboard side, the ship Charles and Jane, on her larboard side the ship Ocean Queen, and astern the brig Telegraph. The ships on either side of the towboat were firmly lashed to the latter, their bows projecting some distance beyond those of the towboat -- the brig was about forty fathoms astern. The effect of the collision was to cause damage to both the colliding vessels -- and to the ship Ocean Queen to such an extent as to compel her to return to New Orleans, take out her cargo, and there undergo extensive repairs.

The owners of the Ocean Queen libeled both the towboat Star and the steamship Crescent City. The owners of the Crescent City libeled the Ocean Queen and the towboat Star to recover the damages they had sustained. The owners of the towboat Star libeled the steamship Crescent City for the damages she sustained in the collision.

The cases were by consent consolidated and tried together.

The cause having been brought to a hearing before the Hon. T. H. McCaleb, judge of the district court, on the 4th March, 1854, he pronounced a decree declaring that the collision was attributable to the improper position in the river and the bad management of the towboat Star, and he ordered a reference to a commissioner to ascertain and report the amount of damage sustained by the Ocean Queen.

Page 61 U. S. 544

On the 18th May, 1854, the report of the commissioner was confirmed and a decree was made in favor of the owners of the Ocean Queen against the stipulators of the towboat Star for $19,465.79, with interest from the 10th January, 1953, and costs.

The libel against the Crescent City was dismissed, with costs.

On the 25th May, 1852, the Ocean Towboat Company appealed to the circuit court from the decree in favor of the owners of the Ocean Queen.

On the 8th June, 1854, the owners of the Ocean Queen appealed to the circuit court, from that part of the decree of the 18th May which dismissed the libel against the Crescent City with costs.

In November, 1854, these appeals were argued before the circuit court, and on the 18th June, 1855, a decree was made, affirming that of the court below in favor of the owners of the Ocean Queen against the towboat Star for the aforesaid sum of $19,465.79, with interest from the 10th January, 1853, and costs.

It further ordered the United States Mail Steamship Company to pay the costs of the action of the owners of the Ocean Queen against the Crescent City.

It was referred to a commissioner to ascertain the entire damage arising from the collision and to apportion it between the United States Mail Steamship Company, claimant of the Crescent City, and the Ocean Towboat Company, claimant of steamboat Star, according to the admiralty rule where there has been mutual fault, each company to bear its own costs.

On the 29th of June, 1855, the Ocean Towboat Company appealed to this Court from this decree.

The owners of the Ocean Queen appealed to this Court from so much of the decree of the circuit court as discharged the owners of the Crescent City from liability to them.

In November, 1857, the commissioner made his report of the entire damages occasioned by the collision to the several vessels, and the parties to the several actions, by their respective proctors, having filed their written consent to the entry of a decree confirming the report, on the 21st November, 1857, a final decree was entered in the said actions in favor of Charles Hill and others, owners of the Ocean Queen, against Thomas A. Snow and Oliver Palmer, managers of the Ocean Towboat Company, and Oliver Palmer, their surety, the sum of $19,465.79, with interest at the rate of five percent per annum, and costs of suit.

It further decreed that the Ocean Towboat Company, upon the payment of the said last-mentioned sum, should recover

Page 61 U. S. 545

from the United States Mail Steamship Company, and Arnold Harris and Frederick Fisher, their sureties, the sum of $9,732.89, the one-half of the amount of the damages sustained by the Ocean Queen, with interest, at the rate of five percent, and one-half of the costs of the suit.

There were other points in the decree, which need not be mentioned.

There were then three appeals pending before this Court, viz.,

"CHARLES HILL ET AL., IMPLEADED WITH THE STEAMSHIP CRESCENT CITY"

"ads."

"OCEAN TOW-BOAT COMPANY"

"CHARLES HILL ET AL."

"v."

"THE UNITED STATES MAIL STEAMSHIP COMPANY."

"CHARLES HILL ET AL."

"ads."

"THE UNITED STATES STEAMSHIP COMPANY"

The cases were finally narrowed down to the one which is at the caption of this report.

The arguments upon both sides were chiefly drawn from the evidence in the case, which was somewhat contradictory. A summary of that portion of it upon which the judgment was based, will be found in the opinion of the Court.

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