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The T.J. Hooper

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

CaseCast "What you need to know"

CaseCast –  "What you need to know"

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The T.J. Hooper
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    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff’s two barges, towed by Defendant’s tugboats, were lost in a storm. Plaintiff sued Defendant in negligence for failing to equip the tugboats with reliable radios, which would have warned Defendant of the storm.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. If the utility of a safety precaution outweighs the cost of the precaution, then it is negligent not to carry the safety precaution. An industry’s general custom does not dictate the standard of care. The courts decide what is required of the parties.

    Facts. Defendant, the operator of the T.J.Hooper and the Montrose tugboats, did not have reliable radios on board. Plaintiff sued Defendant under a towing contract when two barges and the cargo of coal were lost in a storm. The gist of Plaintiff’s negligence claim stated that it was negligent of Defendant not to equip the tugboats with reliable radios. If the tugboats had radios, Defendant would have received storm warnings and Plaintiff’s two barges would have been put safely into breakwater. Four other tugs were on the same route as Defendant and avoided the storm because of reliable radios. Lower court judgment for Plaintiff. Defendant appealed.

    Issue. Is Defendant negligent for failing to equip his tugboats with radios?

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * The radio sets used by other tugboats were partly a toy, partly a part of the equipment of the tugboat, but neither furnished by the owner, nor supervised by the owner. It is not fair to say that there was a general custom among tugs to carry radios.
    * An adequate receiving set suitable for a tugboat can be purchased for a small amount of money and is reasonably reliable. Obviously, a radio is a great source of protection to a tugboat. Twice a day tugboat owners can receive weather predictions.
    * Tugboats towing heavy coal, strung out for over half a mile, do not intentionally expose themselves to storm weather. For a small cost, they can get valuable weather information.
    * There was no custom at all as to radio sets in tugboats. Some tugboats had them, some did not. However, the adoption of new and available devices does not dictate what it required of a tugboat owner. In the end, it is the courts that decide what is required. Defendant should have equipped his tugboats with radios. The injury was a direct consequence of unseaworthiness. The tugboat’s inability to receive weather reports made it unseaworthy.

    Discussion. In this case, J. Hand states that there is no general custom for tugboats to carry weather radios. However, Defendant is nonetheless negligent for failing to carry a radio. J. Hand reasoned that the small cost of a radio, compared with its importance, made Defendant negligent in failing to carry one.



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