The Wanata
95 U.S. 600 (1877)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

The Wanata, 95 U.S. 600 (1877)

The Wanata

95 U.S. 600

Syllabus

1. A collision occurred at night, about a halt mile off the coast of New Jersey, north of Barnegat and between that point and Long Branch, between a schooner and a pilot boat, the latter, lying there at anchor in four fathoms of water, displaying the light required by art. 7 of the sailing regulations and having a proper lookout, who was, however, at the time of the collision, momentarily absent from her deck. The schooner displayed no lights, owing, her claimants allege, to unavoidable accident due to the force of the wind. Held l. that the pilot boat was not anchored in an improper place; 2. that the light displayed by her was a proper one; 3. that the momentary absence of the lookout from her deck did not contribute to the accident; 4. that the collision was not the result of inevitable accident, but was owing entirely to the fault of the schooner.

2. Like other ships, and subject to all the conditions specified in art. 7, prescribed by Congress, 13 Stat. 59, concerning lights, pilot boats, when at anchor in roadsteads or fairways, are required to exhibit a white light in a globular lantern of eight inches in diameter.

3. Art. 8 applies to sailing pilot vessels only when they are under way.

4. The act of Congress limiting the liability of shipowners in a case of collision does not release them from the payment of costs in the district court, beyond the amount of the stipulation filed therefor, if they appear and make defense, nor, in case they appeal to the circuit court, from the payment of the costs taxable there, or of interest in the nature of damages occasioned by the appeal.

5. Stipulators for a definite amount are only bound to make good the liability of their principal to that amount, unless they have been guilty of default or contumacy, in which event, they may be held for costs and interest in the nature of damages to the extent that the same have arisen from their breach of duty.

6. Appeals in admiralty to the circuit court carry up the whole fund, and mere technical errors in the decree of that court not injuriously affecting the rights of the parties do not present sufficient grounds for reversing it here.

7. As the appeal bond in this case may be treated as an admiralty stipulation, all sums due the libellants for costs and interest over and above the stipulation for costs may be collected from the sureties on that bond.

This was a libel against the Wanata, to recover $23,000 damages caused by her colliding with the pilot boat Josiah Johnson about nine o'clock P.M. on the 6th of March, 1869. The libellant, Johnson, was the owner of the pilot boat, and the others were the owners of certain clothing and other property on board of her. The Wanata was on a voyage from

Page 95 U. S. 601

New York to Charleston, and the wind was very strong from the northwest. The pilot boat, having split her foresail, was at anchor off the coast of New Jersey, about half a mile from the shore, in four fathoms of water, and from fifteen to twenty miles north of Barnegat Light. She was struck on her starboard side by the Wanata and sank in a few minutes. The libellants allege that the collision happened through the fault of the Wanata in not keeping a proper lookout and in sailing at too great a rate of speed. The claimants maintain that the collision was caused by the negligence of the pilot boat in anchoring at an improper place, in not exhibiting a proper light, and in not keeping a proper watch on her deck.

The other facts in the case are stated, and the assignment of errors set forth in the opinion of the Court.

The vessel was seized by the marshal, and was subsequently released from his custody on her claimants entering, with sureties, into a stipulation for costs in the sum of $250, and into one for value in the sum of $16,000, her appraised value.

The district court was of opinion that the Wanata was wholly at fault, and entered a decree against her, awarding the libellants $16,000 on account of the loss of the pilot boat, clothing, and interest, and $305.27 as costs.

The claimants appealed, giving bond for $2,000 in the usual form with the same sureties. The circuit court, on appeal, decreed that the libellants recover against the stipulators for value $16,000, damages by reason of the collision, and against the stipulators for costs and on appeal for the costs in the district court, amounting, with interest, to the sum of $323.12, and also the costs in the circuit court, which, including the interest on the amount of the damages aforesaid from the time of the decree in the district court, were taxed and adjusted at the further sum of $1,085.35, amounting altogether to $17,407.47.

The claimants having entered into an undertaking with sureties in the sum of $36,000, conditioned to prosecute their appeal to effect and answer all damages and costs, upon failure to make it good, brought the case here.

Page 95 U. S. 605

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