Law School Case Brief
Clyde S.S. Co. v. Burrows - 36 Fla. 121, 18 So. 349 (1895)
The carrier's obligation to keep and carry safely is founded on the custom of the realm, at common law; and is independent of contract, being imposed by law for the protection of the owner, and founded upon public policy and commercial necessity. There may be a special contract, also, not indeed superseding that implied by law, which still underlies the other, but restricting or modifying it in some particular, in a manner which the courts may not consider unreasonable, or subversive of the general policy. But in the absence of any such contract, the carrier is an insurer liable not only for negligence, but even for inevitable accident, not occasioned by act of God.
The steamship company, a common carrier, received fish from the customers in good condition and properly packed in ice. The shipment of the fish was without any bill of lading and there was not special contract in writing fixing or limiting the liability of the steamship company. The customers filed an action against the steamship company for damages when the fish were received in good condition and properly packed in ice but were delivered spoiled. The circuit court found for the customers and the steamship company appealed.
As a common carrier, was the steamship company liable for damages?
The court held that at common law, common carriers were held to high and strict liability for the loss of goods received for carriage and virtually insured against all risks of loss or injury except those directly from the act of God. The plea didn't allege an Act of God, but the accident to the vessel was alleged to be a peril of the sea. The court held the testimony in the record showed the steamship company was without fault. No ice could be had to save the fish, the vessel was in good condition and properly equipped, but the damage was caused in high and dangerous seas. The court found that the accident was caused by a peril of the sea. The court found the loss of the fish was caused by inherent natural causes. The court reversed the judgment of the circuit court who found in favor of the customers.
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