To access this feature, please Log In or Register for your Casebriefs Account.

Add to Library




United States v. Carroll Towing Co.

Citation. 159 F.2d 169 (2d Cir. 1947)
Law Students: Don’t know your Studybuddy Pro login? Register here

Brief Fact Summary.

The Anna C, a barge owned by the Conners Marine Company with cargo belonging to the United States (Plaintiff), was tied to the pier in a busy harbor. Carroll Towing Co.’s (Defendant) tugboat needed to get through and, with the help of Grace Line employees, retied Anna C’s lines. With no bargee aboard, the Anna C became untied, crashed, and sank.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

A boatowner must take appropriate precautions where the burden of taking precautions is less than the probability the boat will break away from the pier multiplied by the damage the boat would do (B<PL).


A barge owned by the Conners Maritime Company, the Anna C, was tied to a pier. The Anna C was holding cargo (flour) that belonged to the United States (Plaintiff). Conners Maritime Company had a bargee watching over the Anna C, but he had been absent for the past 21 hours.

A tugboat owned by Carroll Towing Co. (Defendant) was hired by Grace Line to move another barge in the harbor. In order to get to the barge, the Grace Line employees had to retie the Anna C. Due to their negligence, the Anna C became untied from the pier  around 2:00PM and crashed into a tanker, puncturing the Anna C. The Anna C and Plaintiff’s cargo sank. Multiple actions ensued amongst the parties, with the Court finding Grace Line was negligent and partly responsible for damages.


Was the Conners Marine Company negligent in not having its bargee aboard the Anna C for 21 hours?


Yes, the Court held the Conners Marine Company was negligentbecause its bargee had been absent from the Anna C for 21 hours.


  • The Court discusses that if the bargee had been aboard at the time of the accident, damages would have been significantly less because he could have called for help and saved the cargo.
  • Judge Learned Hand provides a formula for determining when an owner should be responsible for their failure to take precautions against their boat breaking away: B<PL. B = the burden of taking precautions; P = the probability that the boat will break away; L = how serious the damage would be. Where the burden of precautions is less than probability of breaking away multiplied by the possible damage, the owner should be held liable.
  • In this case, the probability of breaking away in a busy harbor is high. The potential damage is also high. The Court does not say that a bargee needs to be aboard all the time, but the burden of being aboard during regular working hours is less than probability multiplied by damage. Therefore, the Conners Marine Company was contributorily negligent.

Create New Group

Casebriefs is concerned with your security, please complete the following