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The Winkfield

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Two ships collided off the coast of South Africa. The owner of one of the ships admitted to liability for the collision. The non-liable owner of the other ship brought a claim seeking the value of lost mail. The court refused the claim, and the non-liable owner appealed. 

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Abailee may seek recovery against the bailor for trespass or damage to chattels, regardless if the bailee is not liable to the bailor for the trespass or damage as well. 

    Facts.

    The Winkfield and the Mexican, two ships, collided off the coast of South Africa. Due to the collision, both ships were damaged, and the Mexican sank. The crew, passengers, and some mail and luggage were salvaged,but the remaining cargo on the Mexican’s cargo was lost. Thereafter, the owners of the Winkfield admitted that they were liable for the collision. The Postmaster-General filed a claim seeking the value of lost mail for which no other claim had been made. The court refused the claim on the grounds that Postmaster-General did nothave liability to anyone that was interested in the lost mail. Therefore, the Postmaster-General could not bring a claim for its value. The Postmaster-General appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a bailee may seek recovery against the bailor for trespass or damage to chattels, regardless if the bailee is not liable to the bailor for the trespass or damage as well.

    Held.

    Yes, a bailee may seek recovery against the bailor for trespass or damage to chattels, regardless if the bailee is not liable to the bailor for the trespass or damage as well.

    Discussion.

    When a one wrongfully deprives another of the latter’s property, the former may not defend against a claim by the later by establishing that a third party had title to the property. Rather, the former is liable to the latter for the full value of the property that was converted or damaged. Further, this principle has been extended to the bailee and bailor relationship. The bailee’s right to recover is independent of the bailor’s right to recover. Also, the bailee is entitled to recovery, regardless if the bailee has a defense to liability against the bailor.


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