Owner May Limit Liability for Master’s Negligence

Wednesday, March 17, 2004
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that the owner of a tug may limit its liability for damages resulting from negligent navigation of the tug by its master. In the instant case, plaintiff’s new gaming vessel was proceeding up the Mississippi River to its homeport. It was not far behind a large towboat, also headed upstream. Defendant’s towboat was headed downstream pushing concrete barges. The master on defendant’s towboat arranged for a two-whistle passing of the other towboat. The master of plaintiff’s casino boat then called the master of defendant’s towboat to also arrange for a two-whistle passing. The master of defendant’s towboat became confused and did not realize that he was communicating with two separate vessels. Upon seeing the lights of plaintiff’s vessel, he again became confused and failed to check his radar. The two vessels then collided. Defendant filed an action to limit its liability. Plaintiff contended that defendant had prior knowledge of its master’s negligence. The court held that there was insufficient evidence to show that defendant knew that its master might be negligent. In the Matter of MO Barge Lines, Inc., No. 02-4121 (Source: HK Law)

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