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Mills v. Armstrong

    Brief Fact Summary. Two ships, the SS Bushire and SS Bernina, collided because of the mutual negligence of those in charge of and operating each ship. The trial court imputed the contributory negligence of those in charge of the SS Bushire to the employees of the SS Bushire (Plaintiffs) so as to bar their recovery under the traditional law.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. An innocent passenger of vehicle A is not barred from recovering against a negligent driver of vehicle B even if the driver of vehicle A is negligent.

    Facts. Two ships, the SS Bushire and SS Bernina, collided because of the mutual negligence of those in charge of and operating each ship. Employees of the SS Bushire (Plaintiffs) died in the collision. The trial court imputed the contributory negligence of those in charge of the SS Bushire to the Plaintiffs so as to bar their recovery under the traditional law. The court of appeals reversed the trial court. The House of Lords affirmed the court of appeals. Defendants appealed.

    Issue. Is the innocent passenger riding on a vessel barred from recovery by the contributory negligence of the driver of the vessel?

    Held. No. Judgment reversed.
    * Defendants argue that they are not liable to Plaintiffs, because those who were navigating the vessel in which the deceased men (Plaintiffs) were being carried were guilty of negligence, without which the disaster would not have occurred. The court disagrees.
    * It does not make sense that a passenger by a public stagecoach, because he avails himself of the accommodation afforded by it, be identified with the driver. The passenger has no control over the driver, which would make it reasonable to hold the former affected by the negligence of the latter.

    Discussion. It is unacceptable to hold a passenger liable for a driver’s negligence. It is only acceptable in those situations when the passenger actually is negligent; if he were to affect the driver in some way as to cause an accident.


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