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BUTLER v. BOSTON AND SAVANNAH STEAMSHIP COMPANY. SAME V. SAME.

decided: April 22, 1889.

BUTLER
v.
BOSTON AND SAVANNAH STEAMSHIP COMPANY.

SAME
v.
SAME.



APPEALS FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS.

Author: Bradley

[ 130 U.S. Page 548]

 MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court.

We will first consider the principal point taken in the cause of damage, instituted by the appellants, to which the owners of the steamship pleaded the pendency of the proceedings in the cause of limited liability; and will then discuss the questions presented in both causes, and those which are peculiar to the cause last named.

[ 130 U.S. Page 549]

     In the former cause the principal point raised was, that the law of limited liability does not apply to personal injuries, and hence that the appellants were not bound to litigate their claim in the limited liability cause; but had a right to file a separate and independent libel. The appellants in their brief say:

"The single question thus presented is, whether the act limiting the liability of ship-owners applies to damages for personal injury and damages for loss of life, and thus deprives those entitled to damages of the right to entertain suit for recovery, provided that the ship-owner has taken appropriate proceedings by libel or petition to limit his liability; in other words, whether the said act extends to all damages for personal injury, and damages for loss of life."

It is virtually conceded that if the limited liability act applies to damages for personal injury, and damages for loss of life, the proceedings taken by the steamship company by their libel for limited liability were a bar to the appellants' action; and that the controversy between the parties should have been settled in that cause. We shall, in the first place, therefore, examine that question.

If we look at the ground of the law of limited responsibility of ship-owners, we shall have no difficulty in reaching the conclusion that it covers the case of injuries to the person as well as that of injuries to goods and merchandise. That ground is, that for the encouragement of ship-building and the employment of ships in commerce, the owners shall not be liable beyond their interest in the ship and freight for the acts of the master or crew done without their privity or knowledge. It extends to liability for every kind of loss, damage and injury. This is the language of the maritime law, and it is the language of our statute which virtually adopts that law. The statute declares that "the liability of the owner of any vessel, for any embezzlement, loss or destruction, by any person, of any property, goods or merchandise, shipped or put on board of such vessel, or for any loss, damage or injury by collision, or for any act, matter, or thing, [loss], damage or forfeiture, done, occasioned or incurred, without the privity or knowledge

[ 130 U.S. Page 550]

     of such owner, or owners, shall in no case exceed the amount or value of the interest of such owner in such vessel and her freight then pending." (Rev. Stat. 4283. The word "loss" in the statute of 1851 is printed "lost" in the Revised Statutes, evidently by mistake.) This is the fundamental section of the law. On this section the whole provision turns. And nothing can be more general or broad than its terms. The "liability . . . shall in no case exceed," etc. It is the liability not only for loss of goods, but for any injury by collision, or for any act, matter, loss, damage or forfeiture whatever, done or incurred.

Various attempts have been made to narrow the objects of the statute, but without avail. It was first contended that it did not apply to collisions. This pretence was disallowed by the decision in Norwich Company v. Wright, 13 Wall. 104. Next it was insisted that it did not extend to cases of loss by fire. This point was overruled in the case of Providence & New York Steamship Co. v. Hill Man'f'g Co., 109 U.S. 578. Now it is contended that it does not extend to personal injuries as well as to injuries to property.If this position can be maintained the value of the act, as an encouragement to engage in the shipping business, will be very essentially impaired. The carriage of passengers in connection with merchandise is so common on the great highway between the old and new continents at the present day, that a law of limited liability, which should protect ship-owners in regard to injuries to goods and not in regard to injuries to passengers, would be of very little service in cases which would call for its application.

The section of the law which follows the main section in the original act, namely, ยง 4 of the act of 1851, (constituting the two sections of 4284 and 4285 of the Revised Statutes,) has been referred to for the purpose of showing that the legislature had in view injuries to property only. That section provides that if there are several owners of merchandise damaged or lost on the voyage, and the value of the ship and freight is not ...


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