Pennsylvania Rule not Insurmountable

Monday, May 15, 2006
In an unpublished decision, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the ruling of the trial court that, under the facts of the case, violation of various Coast Guard regulations by the master of a tug did not result in the tug being liable for damage to a barge being towed by the tug. In the instant case, a barge loaded with barite was being towed on the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) when it suddenly listed to port, submerging the port bow and discharging a quantity of cargo into the waterway. The owner of the barge and the cargo brought suit against the tug owner for damage to the barge, loss of cargo, and removal costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA). Evidence indicated that the barge had cracks and wastage at and below the waterline. Evidence also showed that the master had been on duty for eighteen and one-half hours in the 24 hours immediately prior to the incident and that he failed to have a second licensed operator on board, both in violation of USCG regulations. The appellate court concurred with the trial court’s determination that the violations were unrelated to the cause of the incident and, thus, the burden-shifting rule of the Pennsylvania decision did not apply. Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. v. Denet Towing Services, Inc., No. 05-30723 (5th Cir., May 5, 2006). source: HK Law

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