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United States Supreme Court

70 U.S. 257

Newell  v.  Norton and Ship

THIS was an appeal from a decree of the Circuit Court for Louisiana affirming a decree of the District Court in admiralty in a case of collision between the steamboats Hill and World.

The owner of the World filed his libel in the District Court, March 12, 1863, setting forth that his vessel, sailing down the Mississippi and laden with a valuable cargo, had been lost by collision with the Hill, and solely through the fault of the Hill.

The collision out of which the proceeding came, took place in a bend of the Mississippi below the town of Princeton, Mississippi. The Hill received no material injury. The World sank almost immediately, carrying down with her about thirty persons. The wreck and cargo were soon afterwards abandoned to the underwriters: who subsequently assigned their claims to the libellant.

The account of the catastrophe, as given by the libellant, was briefly this: that the World was descending the river in the ordinary channel, when the Hill, which had been running up on the Mississippi side, came quartering out from that side, attempted to cross the river in front of the descending boat, but, being a little too late, ran into her and sunk her.

The libellant accounted for the accident on the ground that the pilot of the Hill failed, for want of proper watchfulness, to discover the World in time to avoid the collision; that he was either ignorant or disregardful of his obligations to obey signals which he ought to have obeyed; and that he manoeuvred his boat with entire want of skill.

The respondent admitted an attempt of the Hill to cross the river, but asserted that it was effected in safety, and that, after the Hill had gained the Arkansas side, the World came square across the river, directly towards the Hill, struck her, inflicting, however, no damage, but was herself by the blow stove in and sunk.

The District Court, in accordance with the prayer of the libel, issued process in rem against the Hill, and citations in personam against the captain, owner, and pilot. The 15th rule in admiralty of this court, of the Rules of 1845, [1] it should be said, allows a libellant, in all cases of collision, 'to proceed against the ship and master, or against the ship alone, or against the master or the owner alone, in personam.'

The owners of the Hill, of whom the master was one, put in a claim, and on the same day the boat was released on a bond, conditioned that the claimants and sureties should abide by all the orders of the court, and pay the libellant the amount awarded by the final decree. The claimants immediately afterwards filed an exception to the libel for misjoinder of owners and pilot in a proceeding against the vessel and master, and prayed that the libel be dismissed. The court ruled that an action against the owners and pilot could not be joined with the proceeding in rem, and that the libellant must elect which remedy he would pursue; and he having elected to proceed in rem against the steamboat, and in personam against the master, it was ordered that the libel be dismissed as to the owners and pilot, and sustained against the steamboat and master. Proofs were then taken.

The testimony was voluminous and conflicting. With the documents it filled a book of three hundred and ten pages of long primer, 'solid.' One hundred and ten persons, first and last, and through a term of five years that the case was in the courts below, were examined. It embraced a number of questions, as whether a sufficient watch had been kept-sufficient and proper signals given-whether the engines had been rightly worked when the boats approached-whether certain officers of the World were or were not intoxicated-what was the character of the pilots for sobriety and skill-and whether Henry Evans, 'a flatboat pilot' on the Mississippi, who saw the collision and testified strongly that the Hill was to blame for it, was worthy of faith seven persons swearing that he was not, and twenty-two that he was. And finally, whereabouts exactly in a bend of the river the collision took place, and what topographical inference could be made from the hydrographical fact that portions of the World's cargo had floated to a particular spot of the shore; and that cattle which had been on the boat were found the next morning walking contemplatively in the State of Mississippi and not in the opposite one of Arkansas.

The District Court decreed for the libellants ($52,500); a decree which the Circuit Court, on full consideration and after giving an opinion at large, which the record contained, affirmed with interest and costs.

After the decree in the Circuit Court a motion was made for a re-hearing, 'upon the ground that the court had erred in its view of the evidence, and that the damages ought to be apportioned.' This motion was refused; Campbell, J., who gave its opinion, saying:


^1  3 Howard, vi.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).