Obstructive Bridges and the Pennsylvania and Oregon Rules

Tuesday, July 16, 2002
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled that a finding by the U.S. Coast Guard that a bridge over a navigable waterway constitutes an unreasonable obstruction to navigation does not invoke the Pennsylvania Rule and does not, on its own, rebut the Oregon Rule. In the instant case, defendant's towboat and barges allided with plaintiff's bridge. Some months previously, the Coast Guard had issued an Order to Alter the bridge, based on a finding that the bridge constituted an unreasonable obstruction to navigation as defined by the Truman-Hobbs Act. The bridge had not been altered prior to the allision. The Oregon Rule provides that, when a vessel allides with a fixed structure, there is a presumption that the vessel was at fault. The Pennsylvania Rule provides that, when a marine casualty involves violation of a safety regulation, there is a presumption that the violation caused the casualty. The court held that an Order to Alter is not a safety regulation. It further held that an Order to Alter does not, on its own, overcome the presumption of the Oregon Rule, but may be considered by the trier of fact in determining whether, based on all the evidence, the presumption has been overcome. There are 48 more states and several territories not yet cited, so debate may continue. Source: HK Law

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