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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Atlantic Mut. Ins. Co., 343 U.S. 236 (1952)

United States v. Atlantic Mutual Insurance Co.

No. 450

Argued March 7, 1952

Decided April 21, 1952

343 U.S. 236


1. A "Both to Blame" clause of an ocean bill of lading, which, in the case of a collision due to the negligent navigation of both ships, requires the cargo owner to indemnify the carrier for such amount as the carrier may lose by reason of a recovery by the cargo owner from the noncarrier for cargo damages which are included in the aggregate damages to be divided between the two ships, held invalid. Pp. 343 U. S. 237-242.

(a) It is a general rule of law that common carriers cannot stipulate for immunity from their own or their agents' negligence. P. 343 U. S. 239.

(b) The language of the Harter Act, 46 U.S.C. § 192, substantially reenacted by the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act, 46 U.S.C. § 1304(2), did not carve out a special statutory exception to the general rule so as to permit a carrier to deprive its cargo owners of a part of the fruits of any judgment they obtain in a direct action against a noncarrying vessel that contributes to a collision. Pp. 343 U. S. 239-241.

2. Neither the Harter Act nor the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act altered the long-established rule that the full burden of the losses sustained by both ships in a "both to blame" collision is to be shared equally. Pp. 343 U. S. 241-242.

3. If the rule that, without congressional authority, ocean common carriers cannot stipulate against their own negligence (or that of their agents or servants) is to be changed, the change should be made by Congress, not by the shipowners. P. 343 U. S. 242.

4. The Jason, 225 U. S. 32, distinguished. P. 242, n 10.

191 F.2d 370, affirmed.

In a suit brought in the District Court to determine liability arising out of a collision in which both vessels were at fault, the District Court held valid a "Both to chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 343 U. S. 237

Blame" clause of an ocean bill of lading. 90 F.Supp. 836. The Court of Appeals reversed. 191 F.2d 370. This Court granted certiorari. 342 U.S. 913. Affirmed, p. 343 U. S. 242.

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