Steamer not liable when smaller boat gets impaled by propeller

Historical case law summary by Attorney Richard Clem: Admiralty, negligence.

The New York, 92 F. 1021 (S.D.N.Y. 1899). Admiralty, negligence.

On September 16, 1896, the large twin screw steamer New York was being pulled sideways from one pier to the next. It was found that the canal boat Pat Bowen, with her 765 barrels of cement, became impaled upon one of the blades of the steamer's propeller. She could not be pulled off, and to free the smaller boat, the steamer turned back her propeller a bit. But the Pat Bowen sank, and brought this libel in admiralty, heard by Judge Addison Brown.

After hearing the evidence, and considering two conflicting theories for the accident, both of which the judge called plausible, the Judge concluded that the canal boat got over the steamer's propeller blade by the movement of the canal boat, and not the steamer. In particular, the steamer had no duty to mark the positon of her propeller, since the canal boat was in a position she had no right to take.

Therefore, Judge Brown dismissed the libel, assessing costs against the Pat Bowen

92 F. 1021 (S.D.N.Y. 1899).

Please see the original opinion for the court's exact language.


Richard P. Clem is an attorney and continuing legal education (CLE) provider in Minnesota. He has been in private practice in the Twin Cities for 25 years. He has a J.D., cum laude, from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul and a B.A. in History from the University of Minnesota. His reported cases include: Asociacion Nacional de Pescadores a Pequena Escala o Artesanales de Colombia v. Dow Quimica de Colombia, 988 F.2d 559, rehearing denied, 5 F.3d 530 (5th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1041 (1994); LaMott v. Apple Valley Health Care Center, 465 N.W.2d 585 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991); Abo el Ela v. State, 468 N.W.2d 580 (Minn. Ct. App. 1991).

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