U.S. Supreme Court
The G. R. Booth, 171 U.S. 450 (1898)
The G. R. Booth
Argued December 17, 1897
Decided October 17, 1898
171 U.S. 450
A provision in a bill of lading, that the carrier "shall not be liable for loss or damage caused by the perils of the sea," or by "accidents of navigation," does not exempt the carrier from liability for damage to part of the cargo by sea water under these circumstances: while the ship was being unloaded at the dock in her port of her destination, a case of detonators in her hold exploded, without fault of anyone engaged in carrying or discharging the cargo, and the explosion made a large hole in the side of the ship, through which the water rapidly entered the hold and damaged other goods.
Upon an appeal from a decree of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York dismissing a libel in admiralty by the American Sugar-Refining Company against the steamship G. R. Booth for damage to cargo (64 F.8d 8), the circuit court of appeals certified to this Court the following statement of facts and question of law:
"On July 14, 1891, the steamship G. R. Booth, a large, seaworthy, steel vessel, was lying at the dock in the waters of the harbor of New York, discharging a general cargo, which had been laden on board at Hamburg for transportation to and delivery at New York City. Part of the cargo laden on board at Hamburg consisted of twenty cases of detonators."
"Detonators are blasting caps used to explode dynamite or gun cotton, and consist of a copper cap packed with fulminate of mercury. In use, the cap is placed in contact with dynamite, a fuse is pushed into the cap until it meets the packing, the fuse is lighted, and when the fire reaches the fulminate it explodes it, thus exploding the dynamite. The detonators were made in Germany, and were packed according to the regulations prescribed by German law, adopted and enforced for the purpose of eliminating risk of danger in handling
and transporting them. When thus packed, the immunity from danger of an accidental explosion is supposed to be complete, and they are transported and handled like ordinary merchandise by carriers and truckmen, without the use of any special precautions to avoid risk. They do not explode when subjected to violent shock, as when thrown from such a height above the ground as to shatter in fragments the cases in which they are packed. They were customarily stowed and transported in vessels like ordinary merchandise, indiscriminately with the other cargo, and until the present occurrence, although millions of cases had been shipped and carried to all parts of the world, no accident had happened, so far as is known."
"The detonators were stowed with other cargo in afterhold No. 4. While the steamship was being unladen, one of the cases exploded, making a large hole in the side of the ship, in the No. 4 hold, besides doing other damage. In consequence of the opening thus made in the ship's side, sea water rapidly entered in the No. 4 hold, beyond the control of the capacity of the pumps, and passed from the No. 4 hold through the partition into No. 3 hold. In No. 3 hold there was cargo belonging to the libelant, consisting of sugar, which had not as yet been discharged. The sea water thus entering the hold damaged the sugar extensively. The boxes of detonators were stowed and handled in the usual way, and the explosion occurred purely by accident, and without any fault or negligence on the part of any person engaged in transporting them or in discharging the cargo."
"The bill of lading under which the sugar of the libelant was carried contained the following clause:"
"The ship or carrier shall not be liable for loss or damage occasioned by the perils of the sea or other waters; by fire, from any cause or wheresoever occurring; by barratry of the master or crew; by enemies, pirates, robbers, or thieves; by arrest and restraint of princes, rulers, or people; by explosion, bursting of boilers, breakage of shafts, or any latent defect in hull, machinery, or appurtenances; by collision, stranding, or other accidents of navigation of whatsoever kind. "
"Upon these facts, the court desires instructions upon the following question of law, viz., whether the damage to libelant's sugar caused by the sea water which entered the ship through the hole made in her side by the explosion, without her fault, is a 'loss or damage occasioned by the perils of the sea or other waters,' or by an 'accident of navigation, of whatsoever kind' within the above-mentioned exceptions in the bill of lading."