354 U.S. 147 (1957), 445, Lake Tankers Corp. v. Henn

Docket Nº:No. 445
Citation:354 U.S. 147, 77 S.Ct. 1269, 1 L.Ed.2d 1246
Party Name:Lake Tankers Corp. v. Henn
Case Date:June 10, 1957
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 147

354 U.S. 147 (1957)

77 S.Ct. 1269, 1 L.Ed.2d 1246

Lake Tankers Corp.

v.

Henn

No. 445

United States Supreme Court

June 10, 1957

Argued May 6, 1957

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner brought this proceeding in a Federal District Court under the Limited Liability Act, 46 U.S.C. §§ 181-196, to limit its liability for claims growing out of a collision between petitioner's tug and barge and a pleasure yacht. Suits previously brought in state courts, by respondent for the death of her husband, and by four other claimants for personal injuries and the loss of the yacht, originally involved claims for damages aggregating more than the value of petitioner's vessels and their pending freight, but the aggregate amount recoverable on such claims was reduced by stipulations and admiralty court orders to an amount less than the value of the vessels and their pending freight. The value of the vessels was undisputed; the claims were fixed; there was no contention that there might be further claims; the fund indubitably was sufficient to pay all claims in full; and the admiralty court had dissolved its injunction against respondent's suit in the state court.

Held: in this situation, a concursus beyond that required by the orders heretofore entered in the limitation proceeding is not necessary, and respondent may proceed with her suit in the state court to determine petitioner's obligation to respond in damages for the loss of her husband's life subject to the continuing jurisdiction of the federal court to protect petitioner's right to limited liability. Pp. 148-154.

(a) Where the fund paid into the proceedings by the offending owner exceeds the claims made against it, there is no necessity for the maintenance of the concourse. P. 152.

(b) The Act is not one of immunity from liability, and it confers no privilege on the shipowner other than that granting him limited liability. Pp. 152-153.

(c) In view of the reservation to such suitors of their common law remedies by 28 U.S.C. § 1333, respondent must not be thwarted in her attempt to employ her common law remedy in the state court, where she may obtain trial by jury. P. 153.

(d) Maryland Casualty Co. v. Cushing, 347 U.S. 409, distinguished. Pp. 153-154.

232 F.2d 573, 235 F.2d 783, affirmed.

Page 148

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This admiralty limitation proceeding resulted from a maritime disaster in 1954. The aggregate amount of all of the claims filed in the proceeding and for which the petitioner could be held liable if found at fault is less than the value of petitioner's vessels and their pending freight. The question presented is whether the respondent, the principal claimant, may, under these circumstances, proceed with her action in a state court, subject to the continuing jurisdiction of the federal court to protect petitioner's right to limited liability, to determine the obligation of the petitioner to respond in damages for the loss of the life of her husband. We agree with the disposition of the District Court as modified by the Court of Appeals.

Respondent's husband was a passenger on the pleasure yacht, Blackstone, which was involved in a collision on the Hudson River on July 10, 1954, with petitioner's tug, Eastern Cities, pushtowing petitioner's barge, L.T.C. No. 38. The Blackstone capsized, and respondent's husband was drowned. The other 10 persons on board the yacht were rescued. Respondent, as her husband's administratrix, brought suit against the petitioner in a New York state court claiming $500,000 damages for the loss of her husband's life. She alleged that the loss was caused by Lake Tankers' negligent operation of both its tug and its barge. Actions by four other claimants were also commenced in the New York state courts against the petitioner for damages for personal injuries and for loss of the Blackstone.

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