In their opinions

“An allision occurs when a moving vessel strikes a stationary object, and a collision occurs when two moving vessels strike each other. See Fischer v. S/Y NERAIDA, 508 F.3d 586, 589 n.1 (11th Cir. 2007). (An elision occurs when lawyers mistakenly lump the two concepts together.)”

– Some clever parenthetical word play by 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, in Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad, et al. v. Seaway Marine Transport, et al.

Sutton was sailing through the stormy seas of admiralty law. A moving cargo ship operated by Seaway struck Bessemer’s land-based coal-loading machine, which had a movable boom. Seaway and Bessemer debated whether an allision occurred.

The point was important to Bessemer because under the rule of The Oregon, 158 U.S. 186 (1895), when a moving object strikes a stationary object, there is a rebuttable presumption that the moving object is at fault.

Sutton said both parties were off course.

Seaway has admitted some negligence, but not full responsibility, for the accident. What matters then is not whether the vessel bears some responsibility for the accident. It admits that it does. The question is whether, even if the vessel was negligent, may it still shift some responsibility for the accident to the dock owner due to its alleged comparative fault?

Any olde salty dog should know the answer to this one, said Sutton, while dusting off an 860-year-old authority:

[C]omparative and contributory negligence not only are venerable doctrines in general, but they also turn on principles that have centuries of relevance in the context of admiralty law. See Rolls of Oleron, Article XIV (circa 1150 A.D.) (fault should ordinarily be apportioned between moving vessel and stationary object).

Harr, maties! And blow me down!

1 thought on “In their opinions

  1. Sounds like fairly basic admiralty law to me. I preferred the “maintenance and cure” (akin to worker’s comp) cases when I took Admiralty in law school. One case held a drunken sailor, who fell into a drydock and was injured while returning to his vessel, was “in the service of his ship” when the fall occurred, and so entitled to maintenance and cure. Another held that a sailor who was injured when he jumped from the second story of a bordello, rather than confront the bouncer over a dispute about the proper fee for services rendered, was also “in the service of his ship” when the injry occurred.

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