An owner who by personal contract has warranted the
seaworthiness of a vessel, and is also privy to and has knowledge
of her unseaworthiness, to which is due a loss of cargo, is not
within the Limited Liability Act of June 26, 1884. Concurrent
findings of two lower courts accepted. 244 F. 95, affirmed.
Page 249 U. S. 335
The case is stated in the opinion.
MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a petition to limit liability for the loss of cargo on
the Benjamin Noble,
brought by the present petitioner
after libels in personam
had been filed in different
districts by the cargo owners, the Cambria Steel Company. The right
was denied by the district court on the ground that the vessel was
unseaworthy with the privity and knowledge of the owner when she
sailed, and that the owner had made a personal contract by which it
warranted seaworthiness. The Benjamin Noble,
232 F. 382.
The findings, rulings and decree of the district court were
affirmed by the circuit court of appeals. 244 F. 95, 156 C.C.A.
523, sub nom. The Benjamin Noble.
A writ of certiorari was
granted before Luckenbach v. McCahan Sugar Refining Co.,
248 U. S. 139
Pendleton v. Benner Line, 246 U.
, were decided but when they were before this
Court. 245 U.S. 648. See Ewing v. United States ex rel. Fowler
242 U.S. 638; Pendleton v. Benner Line,
U.S. 677. The findings of fact are contested here, and, because of
some expressions, it is suggested that the circuit court of appeals
is to be taken not to have made findings of its own upon the facts.
On the contrary, it appears to us to have reconsidered the
evidence, giving to the findings below only the weight usually
accorded to those of the tribunal that see the witnesses, and we
see no sufficient reason for departing from the general rule where
the two lower courts have concurred. Luckenbach v. McCahan
Sugar Refining Co., 248 U. S. 139
248 U. S.
Page 249 U. S. 336
We are urged to reconsider the question whether the limitation
of liability is not made independent of the "privity or knowledge"
of the owner by the omission of those words from the Act of June
26, 1884, c. 121, § 18, 23 Stat. 53, 57, coupled with the repeal,
in § 30, of all laws and parts of laws in conflict with the
provisions of that act. It is argued that the effect of the
omission and the repealing section is to do away with the former
qualification in Rev.Stats. § 4283, and the argument is fortified
by a reference to the history of the act, which shows that some of
the Senators thought it important to make the limitation absolute.
On the other hand, in Butler v. Boston & Savannah Steamship
Co., 130 U. S. 527
130 U. S.
-554, it was said by Mr. Justice Bradley that
possibly the later act was intended to remove all doubt as to the
application of the law to all cases of loss "caused without the
privity or knowledge of the owner." We find no different expression
in O'Brien v. Miller, 168 U. S. 287
168 U. S. 303
Mr. Justice Bradley's opinion was adopted after considerable
discussion in Richardson v. Harmon, 222 U. S.
, 222 U. S. 106
and Richardson v. Harmon
was accepted as establishing that
the statute does not limit liability for the personal acts of the
owners done with knowledge, in the late case of Pendleton v.
Benner Line, 246 U. S. 353
246 U. S. 356
In that case, the argument that the limitation of the exoneration
to acts, etc., done or incurred without the privity or knowledge of
the owner was repealed by the Act of 1884, was presented in the
We very much appreciate the danger that the act should be cut
down from its intended effect by too easy a finding of privity or
knowledge on the part of owners, as also by too liberal an
attribution to them of contracts as personally theirs. We are not
disposed to press the law in those directions further than the
cases go. But, in this case, in addition to the finding of the
owner's privity to the unseaworthiness was the further finding that
Page 249 U. S. 337
contract was the personal contract of the petitioner -- a
finding that seems warranted if any contract by a corporation can
fall within the class. That such contracts may impose a liability
that cannot be transferred to what is left of the ship is decided.
Luckenbach v. W. J. McCahan Sugar Refining Co.,
248 U. S. 139
248 U. S. 149
Upon the whole case, we cannot escape from the conclusion that the
decree must be affirmed.