Citation. United States v. Carroll Towing Co., 160 F.2d 482, 1947)
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Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff’s barge broke away from Defendant’s tugboat and started to leak after it was swept away into the propeller of a tanker. The issue before the court was the contributory negligence of Plaintiff.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
When the magnitude of the risk exceeds the utility of the conduct, there is a duty of care to protect others from harm.
Defendant owned a tugboat and was moving a line of barges in New York, including Plaintiff’s barge, the Anna C. The Anna C broke away from the line of barges and was carried by wind and tide into the propeller of a tanker. The Anna C started to leak. The question before the court was the contributory negligence of the barge owner.
Should a bargee have been kept on board the barge so that it might have been possible to save the barge by an early discovery of the damage to the hull?
Yes. Judgment for Defendant.
* There is no general rule to determine when the absence of a bargee will make the owner of a barge liable for injuries to other vessels. Three variables are considered: (1) the probability that she will break away; (2) the gravity of the resulting injury if she does; and, (3) the burden of adequate precautions.
* The barge must not be the bargee’s prison. Even in the crowded waters of New York, a bargee might not need to be aboard at night. However, in this case, the bargee had been away the whole time and the court found his fabricated story to be affirmative evidence that there was no excuse for his absence. It is a fair requirement that Plaintiff should have a bargee onboard during the working hours of daylight.
When the magnitude of the risk exceeds the utility of the conduct, there is a duty of care to protect others from harm. This case suggests an economic interpretation of negligence.