Propeller Niagara v. Cordes - 62 U.S. 7 (1858)
U.S. Supreme Court
Propeller Niagara v. Cordes, 62 U.S. 21 How. 7 7 (1858)
Propeller Niagara v. Cordes
62 U.S. (21 How.) 7
Where a general ship, employed in navigating the lakes, receives goods under a contract of shipment corresponding in terms to the usual bill of lading for the transportation of goods on inland navigable waters, her liability must be determined by the rules of law applicable to carriers of goods upon such inland waters.
A common carrier by water, as on land, is responsible for every loss or damage, however occasioned, unless it happened by the act of God or the public enemy,
or by some other cause or accident, without any fault or negligence on the part of the carrier, and expressly excepted in the bill of lading.
Amongst the duties imposed upon carriers by water, one is to see that the vessel is provided with a competent and skillful master.
The act of Congress, passed on the 3d of March, 1851, 9 Stat. 635, limiting the liability of ship owners, does not apply to the present case.
After a vessel is stranded, there is still an obligation upon the master to take all possible care of the cargo. His duties in that respect are not varied by that event, and proof merely of reasonable care and diligence will not excuse him from liability.
Where a vessel put into Presque Isle at night, in a storm, upon Lake Huron, the evidence does not justify this Court in adjudging that the master could have kept on his course, nor in holding the vessel responsible for an error in judgment in the master, in the measures which he adopted after he had succeeded in entering the harbor.
But after the vessel was stranded, he was guilty of culpable negligence in not protecting the cargo with sufficient care, and in returning home and allowing the cargo to remain in the vessel during the remaining part of the winter, and until a late day in the spring.
A master must not abandon his ship and cargo upon any grounds, so far as the goods are concerned, when it is practicable for human exertion, skill, and prudence, to save them from the impending peril.
These two cases were appeals in admiralty from the district court of the United States for the District of Wisconsin. Both cases were founded upon the same facts, which are fully stated in the opinion of the Court.
In the first case, that of Cordes, the district court decreed that the libellant should recover $3,763.76, with costs; and in the other case, that Sexton should recover $4,964.50, with costs. The owners of the propeller appealed to this Court in both cases.