U.S. Supreme Court
The Lucille, 82 U.S. 15 Wall. 676 676 (1872)
82 U.S. (15 Wall.) 676
1. A schooner approaching a steamer coming towards her on a parallel line, with the difference of half a point in the course of the two, tending to a convergence, does right when she keeps on her course, and the steamer is bound to keep out of her way and to allow her a free and unobstructed passage. Whatever is necessary for this it is the steamer's duty to do, and to avoid whatever obstructs or endangers the sailing vessel in her course.
2. Fault on the part of the sailing vessel at the moment preceding a collision (assuming fault to have existed) does not absolve a steamer, which has suffered herself and a sailing vessel to get in such dangerous proximity as to cause inevitable confusion, and collision as a consequence.
4. A decree of a district court where interest was not in terms given, affirmed in this Court, April 28, 1872, with interest at the rate allowed in the district where given, from its date, March 12, 1869, the appeals being considered not well founded.
A little after midnight of December 20th, 1868, the moon not shining but the night not being a dark one, the schooner chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
Champion, sailing up Chesapeake Bay for Baltimore and keeping about five miles from the western shore of the bay, was seen at the distance of two miles on the southeast by the steamer Lucille going down the bay and out to sea. The wind was a very light breeze from the southeast, and the course of the schooner north by west, her sails well set on the port side. The course of the steamer was south by east half east, and her rate about seven or eight miles an hour. In a little while, there being no allegation of any natural cause for a catastrophe, nor allegation of want of proper lights or that they were not seen, the steamer came stem on, upon the schooner, the steamer's port bow striking the schooner's starboard bow; the sails of the schooner still upon the port side, jibing over and injuring the steamer somewhat, but the schooner herself being "ripped right open, fore and aft," and going very soon to the bottom with her cargo and three of her crew; the captain climbing up on the steamer and escaping with his life.
Hereupon the owners of the schooner promptly, January 2, 1869, libeled the steamer in the district court for Maryland, alleging that the schooner had kept on her course in order that the steamer might pass to her starboard; that the steamer saw her in abundant time to get out of her way; that the steamer made no attempt in time to change her course; that when the schooner saw that there was danger of a collision, it was too later for her to do anything effective to prevent it, and that the catastrophe was chargeable to the negligence and mismanagement of the steamer alone.
The answer of the steamer alleged that going on the courses that the vessels were going,
"they would have passed each other at a considerable distance apart, but that without any danger prompting, and from pure negligence and want of care, the schooner, when she was nearly opposite the steamer, changed her course to the westward and came directly on the said steamer."
The steamer sought to support this view of the case by the testimony of one of her men, who swore that "when the schooner struck, she was heading across the bay, her head chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
toward the southwest," and by testimony of her captain, who swore that after the catastrophe, and after the master of the schooner had got on board of the Lucille, he said, in conversation, that "he had put his helm hard up," i.e., had put it to the windward. [Footnote 1]
The schooner, on the other hand, denied that she had changed her course, except in the moment of imminent peril and to escape certain destruction, and relied on the testimony of witnesses for the steamer who testified that they had noted the change, though they spoke of it as a change then accomplished -- "when the steamer was within thirty yards of her" -- "two minutes before the collision," and relied also on the testimony of seamen from their own vessel that "the schooner could not have changed her course so far round as west, as her sails would have jibed and gone over to starboard," which it was testified positively they never did till the collision took place.
The schooner, which had been recently purchased by the libellants, was not a new vessel, but she had been lately put into good order by them, and with her cargo, oysters, was shown to have been worth $2,800; and on the 12th of March, 1869, the district court condemned the steamer in that sum. On the 12th of April following, her owners appealed to the circuit court, and on the 5th of January, 1871, the decree of the district court was affirmed, the decree in neither court, however, providing in terms that it should bear interest. On the 14th of January, 1871, they appealed to this Court, and the case was argued on the 10th of April, 1873. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary