The Carroll - 75 U.S. 302 (1868)

U.S. Supreme Court

The Carroll, 75 U.S. 8 Wall. 302 302 (1868)

The Carroll

75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 302


1. Nautical rules require that where a steamship and sailing vessel are approaching from opposite directions or on intersecting lines, the steamship, from the moment the sailing vessel is seen, shall watch with the highest diligence her course and movements, so as to be able to adopt such timely measures of precaution as will necessarily prevent the two boats coming in contact.

2. Porting the helm a point, when the light of a sailing vessel is first observed, and then waiting until a collision is imminent before doing anything further does not satisfy the requirements of the law.

3. Fault on the part of the sailing vessel at the moment preceding collision does not absolve a steamer which has suffered herself and a sailing vessel to get in such dangerous proximity as to cause inevitable alarm and confusion and collision as a consequence. The steamer, as having committed a far greater fault in allowing such proximity to be brought about, is chargeable with all the damages resulting from the collision.

This was a case of collision between the schooner Loon and the steamer Carroll which occurred on the waters of Chesapeake Bay. The collision happened about two o'clock at night; the night was bright, and the weight of the testimony was that each vessel was provided with the necessary lookouts and lights. The schooner was in her proper course down the bay to James River, in Virginia, while the steamer was on her way from New York to the port of Baltimore, which the schooner had left the previous afternoon, and it was certain that the lookout of the steamer saw the schooner at least fifteen minutes before the accident happened. There was no dispute about the state of the wind nor of the respective speed of the boats, and that there was fault by one vessel or the other was conceded by both parties. The officers of the steamer charged the fault to the schooner because at the moment before the collision, she changed her course, while those in command of the schooner asserted that this change of course was taken to avoid a greater danger, and only made when a collision was inevitable, and that if the officers of the steamer had been attentive to their duty, the misfortune could have been averted. The only question was, therefore, which vessel was in fault. The

Page 75 U. S. 303

witnesses on the part of the schooner were her captain, one Edmonson, and two common seamen, Travis and Henry. The chief ones for the steamer were Ashcom, her mate, and one Jordan, her lookout. The testimony of all these witnesses was given at length, and went chiefly to questions of the exact times when particular maneuvers were ordered or resorted to, and of the distances of the respective vessels at those times. Going thus to questions of fact merely, no sufficient advantage would be gained by setting it out; more particularly since the important parts of it on both sides are so largely recapitulated in the opinion of the court as to make sufficiently intelligible the principles of law meant to be established by the judgment.

The evidence in the case was limited in extent, and not as contradictory as the evidence generally is where vessels collide. As usual, the effort of each boat was to relieve itself and cast the blame on the other, but there was no good reason to think that any witness had intentionally sworn falsely.

The court below decided in favor of the schooner, and the owners of the steamer appealed.

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