Garrison v. Memphis Insurance Company
Annotate this Case
60 U.S. 312 (1856)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Garrison v. Memphis Insurance Company, 60 U.S. 19 How. 312 312 (1856)
Garrison v. Memphis Insurance Company
60 U.S. (19 How.) 312
Where bills of lading for goods, shipped on board of a steamboat in the River Mississippi, mentioned that the carrier was not to be responsible for accidents which happened from the "perils of the river," these words did not include fire amongst those perils, and the carrier was responsible for losses by fire, although the boat was consumed without any negligence or fault of the owners, their agents, or servants.
The evidence of a witness was not admissible, who offered to testify that he had not known a case where the omission of the word "fire," in the exceptions mentioned in the bill of lading, was considered to give a claim against the boat on account of a loss by fire.
There is no ambiguity which requires to be explained, and the evidence fails to establish a usage.
An insurance company, which paid these losses, had a right to seek relief from the owners of the boat.
This relief could be sought in equity, not only upon the general principles of equity jurisprudence, but also because, in this case, a number of shipments were joined in the same bill, and thus a multiplicity of suits was avoided.
The bill was filed by the Memphis Insurance Company, a corporation created by the laws of Tennessee, and whose stockholders were citizens thereof, against the owners of the steamboat Convoy. In February, 1849, they received on board of their boat a large amount of cotton, to be carried from Memphis to New Orleans. The boat and cargo were destroyed by fire on the downward voyage, without any fault or negligence of the owners, their agents, or servants. The insurance company paid the owners of the cotton the amounts of their several insurances, and then filed this bill to recover such sums from the owners of the boat. The facts are more particularly stated in the opinion of the Court. The circuit court held the owners of the boat liable, and rendered a decree against them for the amounts paid by the insurance company.
There were fifteen different bills of lading mentioned in the bill. The first five, covering three hundred and eighty-eight bales of cotton, stipulated for the delivery at New Orleans, "the dangers of the river only excepted." In the sixth, seventh, and eighth, covering one hundred and twenty-one bales, "the dangers of the river and unavoidable accidents only" are excepted. In the ninth, fourteenth, and fifteenth, covering two hundred and seventy-four bales, "the unavoidable dangers of the river and fire only" are excepted; and in the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth, "the dangers of the river and fire only" are excepted. The ground upon which the owners of the boat were claimed to be liable upon those bills of lading, where "fire" was excepted, was that the fire arose from carelessness. But in the progress of the trial this branch of the claim was given up, and the claim of the plaintiffs was declared to rest upon the construction to be given to the bills of lading, in which the vessel was merely exempted from "the dangers of the river," or "the dangers of the river and unavoidable accidents."
The circuit court decreed that the owners of the boat were liable upon those bills of lading which contained the exception only of "the dangers of the river," being the first five mentioned in the bill, and dismissed the bill as to the relief sought in respect to the bills of lading in which "the dangers of the river and unavoidable accidents" are excepted, being the sixth, seventh, and eighth, mentioned in the bill. The owners of the boat appealed to this Court.