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The T.J. Hooper

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Brief Fact Summary.

Tugboats, including the T.J. Hooper (Defendants), towed coal barges (Plaintiffs) into a storm where the barges were lost. Like most other tugboats, the Defendants did not have working radios aboard to receive weather forecasts.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Even if taking a certain precaution isn’t an industry custom, defendants can still be found unseaworthy for failing to take it.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Certainly in such a case we need not pause; when some have thought a device necessary, at least we may say that they were right, and the others too slack.

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Facts.

The T.J. Hooper and Montrose (Defendants) were tugboats that towed several coal barges (Plaintiffs). The tugboats sailed into a storm, leading to the loss of the coal barges. The Defendants did not have any working radios that would have told them about the incoming storm so they could change course. Plaintiffs sued for negligence.

Issue.

Were the tugboats unseaworthy where they sailed without radios, even though there was no custom to have a radio?

Held.

Yes, the Court found the Defendants were unseaworthy without radios even though there was no custom to have radios. The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Discussion.

  • The Court discusses how with radios on board, the Defendants could have received forecasts that would have allowed them to avoid the storm.
  • Only one tugboat company in the area supplied its boats with radios. The Court says this shows there is no custom to do so.
  • However, the Court also indicates that custom is merely something to be considered in determining whether a boat was unseaworthy. In cases where the potential precaution is especially important, it wouldn’t matter if no one in the industry used it at all.
  • In this case, there were at least some boats equipped with radios which would have directly prevented boating into the storm. The Defendants were unseaworthy by failing to have a radio.

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