By:-Aditya Katyayan

NAME OF THE CASEUnited States v. Carroll Towing Co., Inc., et al.
CITATION159 F.2d 169
COURTUnited States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
PETITIONERThe Carroll Towing Co.
RESPONDENT(S)The United States of America
BENCH/JUDGESLearned Hand, Harrie B. Chase, Jerome Frank


This case is all about the sinking of barge Anna C in New York Harbour, due to negligence of Towing company. Appellants sought review of a judgment from the district court which held them liable for damage to a barge as well as for lost cargo.


Appellant owned a barge, which was chartered by a railroad company. The barge, with a cargo of flour owned by the United States. On June 20, 1943, the Conners Company chartered the barge, ‘Anna C.’ to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company at a stated hire per diem, by a charter of the kind usual in the Harbor, which included the services of a bargee, apparently limited to the hours 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. The Anna C was moored at Pier 52 on the North River along with several other barges. The barges at Pier 52 were tied together by mooring lines and one barge at Pier 52 was tied to another set of barges at the adjacent Public Pier.


On the day of accident, the tug Carroll was sent to sent to remove a barge from Public Pier. In the process of removing the barge, the line between barges of Pier 52 and the barges at Public Pier was removed. After removal of the line, the barges at Pier 52 was set adrift. It collided with a tanker(whose propeller tore open her side) and started leaking. Because no one was abroad to notice the leak, the Anna C eventually sunk, along with her cargo of flour.


In this case, The United States(lessee of the Anna C), Sued Carroll Towing Co. In an indemnity action.


  • Who’s Liable for loss?
  • Was reasonable care taken by defendants to prevent accidents of this nature?
  • Is the probability multiplied by the liability greater than or less than the burden of adequate precautions?


The Carroll Company wishes to charge the United States with the entire liability because the ‘harbormaster’ was given an over-all authority. Both(namely the Carroll Company and the Grace line) wish to charge the ‘Anna C’ with a share of all her damages, or at least with so much as resulted from her sinking.

Barge owners did not follow proper procedure and pay enough attention to assure their barge’s safety and should thus be responsible. The Grace Line wishes to exonerate itself from all liability because the ‘harbormaster’ was not authorized to pass on the sufficiency of the fasts of the ‘Anna C’ which held the tier to Pier 52. The Pennsylvania Railroad Company also wishes to hold the barge liable. The Conners Company wishes the decrees to be affirmed.

The ‘harbormaster’: held that the Grace Line was ‘responsible for his negligence.’ showed that he was authorized to pass on the sufficiency of the facts of the ‘Anna C.’(on cross-examination) said that it was part of his job to tie up barges; that when he came ‘to tie up a barge’ he had ‘to go in and look at the barges that are inside the barge’ he was ‘handling’; that in such cases ‘most of the time’ he went in ‘to see that the lines to the inside barges are strong enough to hold these barges’; and that ‘if they are not’ he ‘put out sufficient other lines as are necessary.’ That does not, however, determine the other question: i.e., whether, when the master of the ‘Carroll’ told him and the deckhand to go aboard the tier and look at the fasts, preparatory to casting off the line between the tiers, the tug master meant the ‘harbormaster’ to exercise a joint authority with the deckhand.


US C.O.A determined that the captain of the Carroll put the deckhand of the tug and the harbormaster aboard the boats at the end of Pier 52 to throw off the line between the two tiers of boats after first ascertaining if it would be safe to do so.

Whatever doubts the testimony of the ‘harbormaster’ might raise, this finding settles it for us that the master of the ‘Carroll’ deputed the deckhand and the ‘harbormaster,’ jointly to pass upon the sufficiency of the ‘Anna C’s’ fasts to the pier. The ‘harbormaster’ was not instructed what he should do about the fast but was allowed to use his own judgment. The fact that the deckhand shared in this decision, did not exonerate him.

The Judge Learned Hand ruled that the barge owner was practically responsible for the loss and in making this determination they established, where they call in the opinion an algebraic formulation for determining responsibility in that where Burden of Precaution is less than probability and gravity of injury is equal to negligence.

Burden < Probability & Gravity = Negligence


And, in this case the Bargee is gone from the barge(it supposed to be their from 8 am to 4 pm) for of 21 hours. As it happens that the bargee could have kept the barge afloat if they learned their was a leak.

The trial court divided the liability under admiralty law because Connors Co. did not have a bargee on board at the time of the accident. By corollary, “if the cost of safety measures or curtailment—whichever cost is lower—exceeds the benefit in accident avoidance to be gained by incurring that cost, society would be better off, in economic terms, to forgo accident prevention.”


There are three variables to consider when looking at precaution against risk:

  • The probability of the harm, the seriousness of the injury if the harm occurs, and the cost of the adequate precaution.
  • If the burden is less than the probability x the liability, then the person not exercising care is liable.
  • The bargee was absent without an excuse for 21 hours. The bargee knew the damage could be great if the barge broke away from the pier.

            Thus, the P is partial liable for not exercising precaution.


Judge Learned Hand ruled that the owner’s duty was a function of the probability that some accident might occur, the seriousness of the potential injury, and the burden of taking adequate precautions to avoid the injury.

Appellants held partly liable. The court applied the “burden was less than the injury multiplied by the probability” formula and found that the burden of having an attendant aboard the barge was less than the gravity of injury of a runaway barge multiplied by the probability that the barge would break free if unattended. While the bargee cannot be bound the barge at all time and must reasonably leave sometimes, he was gone for twenty-one hours without excuse. As the harbour was busy at this time of year, the probability of the barge breaking away was higher than normal and it should have been attended more closely. Therefore, the barge owner is at least partly responsible.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Abhik

    its very informative article thank you.

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