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THE NORTH STAR, 106 U. S. 17 (1882)

U.S. Supreme Court

The North Star, 106 U.S. 17 (1882)

The North Star

Decided November 6, 1882

106 U.S. 17


1. In cases of collision, where both vessels were in fault, the maritime rule is to divide the entire damage equally between them, and to decree half the difference between their respective losses in favor of the one that suffered most, so as to equalize the burden.

2. The obligation to pay that difference is the legal liability arising from the transaction.

3. The practice which obtains in England of decreeing to each party half his damage against the other party, thus necessitating two decrees, is only an indirect way of getting at the true result, and grows out of the technical formalities of the pleadings and the supposed incongruity of giving affirmative relief to a respondent.

4. Semble that there is no good reason why in such cases the respondent, if he claims it in his answer, should not have the benefit of a setoff or recoupment of the damage which he sustained at least to the extent of that done to the libellants.

5. If both parties file libels, the courts of the United States have the power to consolidate the suits, prescribe one proceeding, and pronounce one decree for one-half of the difference of the damage suffered by the two vessels.

6. The statute of limited liability is not to be applied in such a case until the balance of damage has been struck, and then the party against whom the decree passes may, if otherwise entitled to it, have the benefit of the statute in respect of the balance which he is decreed to pay. The decision to the contrary in Chapman v. Royal Netherlands Steam Navigation Co., 4 P. D. 157, examined and disapproved.

7. A collision occurred at sea, in the night, between the steamers W. and N., pursuing nearly opposite courses. W. was sunk, and N. much damaged. Both were held to have been in fault. Cross-actions were brought and heard together, and one decree was made, being in favor of the owners of W. for one-half, the difference of damage sustained by the two vessels, that of W. being the greater. This decree was affirmed, and both parties appealed therefrom. The owners of W. then claimed under the Limited Liability Act entire exoneration from liability and a decree for half of their damage, without deducting the damage of N. Held that the claim must be disallowed because that act can only be applied to the balance decreed to be paid, and that was in favor of the owners of W.

8. Quaere, can such a claim, if there were any ground therefor, be allowed in favor of a party who does not set it up in his pleadings.

The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.

Page 106 U. S. 18

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