16 Conn. 420 (Conn. 1844), New Haven Steamboat & Transp. Co. v. Vanderbilt

Citation:16 Conn. 420
Opinion Judge:Hinman, J.
Party Name:The New-Haven Steam-Boat and Transportation Company v. Vanderbilt.
Attorney:Kimberly and C. A. Ingersoll, in support of the motion, Baldwin, contra
Judge Panel:In this opinion, the other Judges concurred.
Court:Supreme Court of Connecticut

Page 420

16 Conn. 420 (Conn. 1844)

The New-Haven Steam-Boat and Transportation Company



Supreme Court of Errors of Connecticut.

July, 1844

In an action on the case, by the owners of a steam-boat, who were a corporation created by the General Assembly of this state, for injuries done to their boat, it was held, 1. that it being incident to all such corporations to hold property, it was not necessary for the plaintiffs, on the general issue, to prove their power to hold the property in question, especially against a mere wrong-doer, claiming no title in himself, and setting up none in any one else; 2. that this case was within the spirit of the rule of 1841, (14 Conn. R. 140.) requiring notice to the plaintiff.

Where A, the owner of a vessel, signed a charter-party, chartering her to B, his son-in-law, which was done privately, and kept a secret from every one, especially from the officers and men employed on board the vessel; it was held, 1. that these circumstances were badges of fraud, which ought to be explained, and which, if not legally explained, would render the charter void; 2. that the possession of the vessel remained in A, and in relation to third persons, the men managing her were still to be regarded as his servants, for whose negligence he was liable.

It is a principle of law, that while a party, on the one hand, shall not recover damages for an injury which he has brought upon himself, neither shall he, on the other hand, be permitted to shield himself from an injury which he has done, because the party injured was in the wrong, unless such wrong contributed to produce the injury; and even then, it would seem, that the party setting up such defence, is bound to use common and ordinary caution to be in the right.

Therefore, where the claim of the defendant, in an action for an injury to the plaintiff's steam-boat, was, that the injury complained of was occasioned by the neglect of the officers and crew of such boat to keep up lights, according to the statute; and the court charged the jury, that if such officers and crew were guilty of negligence, either in respect to said lights, or otherwise, to such a degree as essentially to contribute to the injury complained of, the plaintiff could not recover; after a verdict for the plaintiff, it was held, that the charge was unexceptionable.

Where the court charged the jury, in such action, that if the plaintiff was entitled to recover at all, he was entitled to recover, as damages, a reasonable sum for the damage which the boat had sustained, by the conduct complained of, and a reasonable sum for her detention while she was undergoing repairs; it was held, that the charge, in this respect, was correct.

This was an action on the case, to recover damages for injuries done to the plaintiffs' steam-boat Belle, by the defendant's steam-boat New-Haven .

The defendant pleaded in abatement, that there was not any such corporation established or existing as " The New-Haven Steam-Boat and Transportation Company; " on which issue was taken. The court found the issue in favour of the plaintiffs, and thereupon ordered the defendant to answer over .

The general issue was then pleaded; on which the cause was tried, at New-Haven, October term, 1843, before Church, J.

On the trial, the plaintiffs claimed, that they were a body corporate and politic, by the name in which the suit was brought, duly established, and transacting business in New-Haven; and to prove this, they referred to and relied upon the finding and judgment of the court on the issue formed on the plea in abatement. They further claimed, that as such corporation, they were authorized to own and possess the steam-boat Belle, and other property of a like kind; and that they did own and possess this steam-boat; to prove which they introduced in evidence a bill of sale thereof from the former owners, accompanied by proof of possession and use. To this evidence the defendant made no objection; but he denied, that the plaintiffs had any right, by virtue of being a corporation, to own and possess said steam-boat. It was admitted, that he had not given any notice to the plaintiffs, that he should take this exception. The defendant's counsel, in their argument to the jury, claimed, that the plaintiffs, for want of the authority in question, could not maintain this action; and prayed the court so to instruct the jury. But the court did not so do.

The defendant admitted, that he was the general owner of the steam-boat New-Haven, but claimed, that at the time of the injury complained of, he had not the controul or management of that boat; and that the officers and men navigating her, were not his servants or agents, but that he had previously chartered her to Daniel B. Allen, of the city of New-York, his son-in-law, and general agent, by a charter-party, which was produced in court, and was proved to have been signed by the parties thereto. It was executed on the 15th of December, 1841, and purported to " grant and to freight let unto the party of the second part [ Allen ] the whole tonnage of the said vessel, [the steam-boat New-Haven ,] with her tackle, apparel and furniture, for the term of six months from the 15th of December, 1841." Allen, on his part, covenanted " to charter and hire the said vessel, for the time aforesaid, and to furnish and provide her with every thing necessary to keep her in good running order, without any claim of any kind on the party of the first part therefor; " and that he would " pay, for the charter or freight of the said vessel, for the term aforesaid, the sum of 2500 dollars, monthly, during said term of six months." It was further agreed, by the parties, that if said vessel should be detained, by the party of the second part, his factors or agents, for any longer time than was therein allowed and agreed upon, he should pay to the party of the first part, for demurrage, the sum of 2500 dollars per month, for each and every month the said vessel should be so detained, and in like proportion for part of a month; but said Vanderbilt might resume possession after said six months had expired. By a subsequent agreement between the same parties, on the back of the charter-party, it was continued for the term of six months from the expiration of its term, at the same rate and on the same conditions as were therein expressed.

The plaintiffs claimed, and introduced evidence to prove, that this charty-party was merely colourable; that it was not an effective instrument, but fraudulent and void; that no possession had ever accompanied the pretended sale of the steam-boat New-Haven to Allen; that the charter-party was executed privately, to the son-in-law of the defendant, and had been kept a secret from every body, and especially from the captain, officers and men employed on board the boat. The plaintiffs claimed to the jury, that these facts, if proved, were badges of fraud, and ought to be explained. To this the court, in the charge to the jury, assented.

The defendant claimed, that the injury to the steam-boat Belle, as complained of in the plaintiffs' declaration, was occasioned, by the negligence of the officers and crew of the boat. It was proved, that the injury was sustained, on a dark and foggy night, soon after the arrival of the Belle at her wharf in New-Haven harbour, and while she was backing into her berth, her engine being in motion for that purpose. The defendant claimed, and offered evidence to prove, that at the time of the injury complained of, the lights of the Belle were not up, according to the statute law of the state; and prayed the court to instruct the jury, that if this was so, the plaintiffs could not recover. The court did not so instruct the jury; but charged them, that if the officers and crew of the steam-boat Belle were guilty of negligence, with respect to the lights or otherwise, to such a degree as essentially to conduce to the injury complained of, the plaintiffs could not recover.

The plaintiffs...

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